Four methods for nurturing your friendships using the power of ritual

Group gathered around a campfire at night


I recently read Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living by Dimitris Xygalatas and was utterly fascinated. Dimitris, an anthropologist and cognitive scientist by trade, takes us on an intriguing journey exploring this unique facet of human behaviour.

Humans have practised rituals for millennia to bind communities together, manage anxieties and create meaningful experiences. Rituals are usually highly structured and repetitive in nature. Their predictability plays an important role in providing structure and feelings of certainty in our often unpredictable lives. Whilst ceremonial rituals like graduations and retirement parties mark moments of transition. Providing an opportunity for creating new connections and shared memories.

I was inspired to reflect on how we could apply the positive aspects of the science and art of Ritual to nurturing our friendships more effectively.

Here are 4 methods to explore with your friendship circles:

  1. Move together

Those synchronized swimmers are on to something. Intentionally performing synchronised movements together is shown in a number of studies to foster collaboration and bonding. However, we don’t really get the chance to do this in our day to day lives very often. Why not experiment with incorporating some movement based activities into your diary? Dance classes and rowing provide a simple way to sync up with those around you. Music based activities are shown to be effective too. It is one of the many reasons why singing your heart out with a few thousand people at a festival can feel so good. Equally, it can be a simple as walking in step together when you a wandering around the park with a coffee.

  1. Be Together

Easily said, but oh so difficult in practice. Once you are past your mid-twenties, meeting up with your friends can often descend into a logistical nightmare.


Yet, regular interactions are key to generating the social glue that bonds communities together. Xygalatas notes, ‘frequent applications of the social glue… allows cracks to be sealed, and then the addition of each new layer helps fortify the connection.’ The predictability of rituals provides a useful tool for establishing more consistent opportunities for connection in your life. Structure and repetition associated with rituals provides us with comfort, trust and a sense of control. Equally, from a practical perspective, clear expectations and making it really simple to participate reduces the barriers that might stop people showing up. You could try establishing an annual holiday, hosting seasonal gatherings, joining quarterly brunches or creating a monthly movie night. Naturally, you don’t need to bring a ritual-led approach to all your catch ups. It’s about incorporating a handful of ritualised events across the year to ensure you are consistently carving out time to connect with your key people.

  1. Grow Together

Much of Xygalatas’s research is focused on exploring ‘extreme’ rituals like fire walking and why they have endured through the ages. One aspect he highlights, is that doing extraordinarily challenging things together, ‘activates the personal and collective self at the same time.’ Participating in these rituals creates deep bonds and a profound sense of accomplishment. Elements like sharing heightened emotional experiences, synchronised movements and overwhelming the physical senses contribute to these transformative experiences. What new rituals could you create to challenge yourselves and push beyond your comfort zones?  You could start with an escape room, an obstacle course or an extreme sporting challenge.

  1. Celebrate Together

We’ve already got a host of rituals for ‘traditional’ rites of passage. Across cultures, countries and religions there’s a number of rituals linked to marking births, marriages and deaths. Yet we lack common practices for celebrating many of the milestones of modern life. Major friendship anniversaries, landing a dream job, completing items on your bucket list and starting businesses all deserve momentous celebrations. Given the relatively blank page we’re starting from, it is great opportunity to get creative. Celebrate all the wins!

Ultimately, friendship rituals help infuse our days with meaningful experiences. And like with most good things in life they don’t’ just happen, you have to make them happen. Experiment with these  methods, find what works for you and let us know what you learn! We’d love to build a repository of friendship rituals to inspire others. Share your favourite friendship rituals in the comments below.

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