Are Social Rituals Necessary? Thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday

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Jack Kerouac would rather be writing.

Oh, the Super Bowl. I am always bemused by Super Bowl Sunday, and not just because I’m indifferent (yes, it’s true, I’m afraid I am) to football.

It’s the social ritual of the event that gets me thinking.

This past New Year’s Eve I spent the evening curled up on the sofa with my husband. It was a perfect night. I knew that some years ago, I might have felt guilty about separating myself from the celebrations outside my New York City apartment door. So I was pleased that these days I’m perfectly OK with my homebody ways (and so is my more extroverted husband).

But maybe my preference to stay home on New Year’s Eve is unrelated to introversion. It may have more to do with my feelings toward social ritual. I just don’t care much about birthdays and holiday celebrations. I tend to let the feelings that are supposed to be evoked by these events happen when they will, and trust that I’m going to experience the full range of human emotions and experiences over the course of a year, as opposed to waiting for them to occur on the day the ritual tells me they should.

And I have to admit that I wish that everyone felt this way. Then there wouldn’t be so many obligatory ritualistic events to attend.

Yet I know this is simplistic. Rituals have been too central a part of society, for too many cultures, for too many thousands of years, to dismiss them so casually. Human beings clearly crave them – even humans like me. At weddings, I cry and then I dance. On Yom Kippur, I have felt somber and full of remorse. I love the lights and trees of Christmastime.

But mostly I prefer to mark life’s earthshaking milestones– and the steady progression of time — in unscripted fashion.

What do you think of this? I‘d love to hear about your experiences.


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  1. Amy on 03.02.2013 at 14:47 (Reply)

    Thank you so much for so elegantly capturing exactly how I feel about social rituals!

  2. Super Bowl on 03.02.2013 at 14:57

    [...] Re: Super Bowl A short article I thought others might appreciate: Are Social Rituals Necessary? Thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday – By Susan Cain [...]

  3. Heidi on 03.02.2013 at 14:59 (Reply)

    Dear Susan,

    This is an AMAZING blog post! And yes, I feel EXACTLY the same way!!! I can’t stand socializing and rituals just because someone says its the THING to do!!

    I prefer to live from my heart – if my heart says socialize or celebrate, then that’s what I do!! I don’t do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done!!! What fun is that :)

    I TOTALLY agree with what you have written here!! Keep up the GREAT work!

    By the way, I am in the middle of your book right now and I must say it is one the most interesting and liberating things I have read in a long time!!

    THANK YOU for being such a BIG VOICE for all of us Quiet Ones!!

    I would LOVE to have the honor of meeting you one day – YOU ROCK!!

    Hugs, Heidi

  4. Dorothy on 03.02.2013 at 15:04 (Reply)

    From my perspective, most SB rituals are waaaay too much for me! But I’m also the person who’d be content to spend birthdays and holidays in nice, quiet, close-knit settings. In two years I’ll be 50 and I’m trying to convince my children that I DO NOT want a party! Not because I’m ashamed of my age—but because I don’t want center stage! I’d be happy to celebrate my birthday in a secluded hotel with my Kindle, my music, and my movies. Now THAT’S my idea of a necessary ritual!!

  5. Olivia on 03.02.2013 at 15:04 (Reply)

    There are some social rituals that I prescribe to and some that I do. I love Christmas but New Years Eve does little for me. Valentines Day means very little and I don’t like weddings. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, though. Christmas is very important to me because it is very much a family holiday. It is when my entire family is together (which generally only happens on Christmas, no other time of the year). If it weren’t for that though, I’m not sure I would bother with it. New Years doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s just another day. I have no desire to go out and get drunk and party all night long and the pressure to do that can get frustrating. I feel like Valentines Day is very fake, because it’s a day you’re meant to go out and buy cheap junky gifts for somebody else as some kind of expression of your love. I don’t like feeling pressured to show those emotions- I would prefer to do it in my own time. I don’t particularly like weddings and I am petrified to have my own- the thought of getting up in front of all those people and being so emotionally vulnerable just terrifies me. The thing I don’t like about some of these social rituals is the pressure to feel a certain way when sometimes I don’t feel that way. The pressure to enjoy things that I don’t and to be part of something that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

  6. Dave on 03.02.2013 at 15:09 (Reply)

    Humans are creatures of habit. They need to be guided and told what to think, do and say by this illusion of established social expectation. Unless it has to do with creativity, like music, art, writing, etc., the words “tradition” and “ritual” have been subjugated out of my every day vocabulary. I stopped being a conformist to such socially expected requirements, many years ago. Super Bowl Sunday is merely a day off for me, as well.

  7. Ben Walker on 03.02.2013 at 15:10 (Reply)

    As an introvert, I love reading your books/comments, Susan. As for rituals, I find this particular post fascinating as a Communication teacher. The idea of societal performance in rituals says a lot about ourselves and others, as well as society in general. You remarked about celebrating in unscripted fashion… I wonder if rituals that evoke a communal feeling can be scripted to be unscripted?

    Do you have thoughts on this?

  8. Suzanne on 03.02.2013 at 15:13 (Reply)

    I enjoy rituals and celebrations, but I like to keep them small and intimate – and want the participants to be there willingly. My children are like me in that respect, so I have it easy when it comes to holidays. We would rather be out hiking or skiing than sitting a room full of people eating cake and opening stuff.

    I just organized something for my mother’s 80th birthday. Some family members were there out of obligation and really didn’t have a good time, which stressed me because I’d made the effort for something I really didn’t want to do (all about family politics). The people who wanted to be there seemed to have a good time, but I still stayed to the edges because the .

    I often bow out of celebrations (especially since I saw your TED Talk) that involve noisy, echoey bars or restaurants with loud music and table arrangements that aren’t conducive to conversation. I’m still obligated to a few celebrations, but I’ve shortened the list based on my own priorities.

    And I’m indifferent to football, too. Yay for the likes of us!

  9. Suzanne on 03.02.2013 at 15:15 (Reply)

    Mean to say at the end of the second paragraph: “…stayed to the edges because there was too much talking going on at once.

  10. Laura on 03.02.2013 at 15:23 (Reply)

    Susan, when I first saw you on TED TV I felt, not vindicated, but understood. Now, with this post, you’re just plain channeling my thoughts! Awesome to have it revealed that introverts are regular people, they just don’t have to tell you so :) I was actually sitting here wondering, after deciding to stay home today, if I should at least watch the game so I can converse with people the rest of the week.

  11. Karen on 03.02.2013 at 15:23 (Reply)

    I love how you expressed this – particularly with respect to emotions. I seldom seem to feel what others think I should feel on particular days. I think it bothers other people but it doesn’t bother me any longer. I used to wonder why but now I don’t.

    For example,I decided several years ago to stop wondering why I didn’t care about the social rituals that go with Christmas. I do very little at Christmas and nothing at all on the day itself. That really seems to bother people but they have finally accepted it. I exchange gifts mostly with people who insist on giving me gifts. When people I never see because they are too busy say ‘we have to get together for Christmas’ I usually reply with “I live here 12 months of the year”. I don’t get caught up in the social whirlwind of December.

    Christmas is my most extreme example (by societal standards) but in general I do not partake in social rituals. I would rather be a thoughtful and caring friend all the time than give great gifts. I would rather be alone when I feel like it, and be with others when I feel like it than be with people because it is a certain date on the calendar.

    I am an introvert and a loner so maybe that’s why. Either way – I’m happy with who I am.

  12. Thomas Godshalk on 03.02.2013 at 15:27 (Reply)

    I identify with this a lot–I rarely feel very enthusiastic about supposed “big days.” This is why I have never minded working on days like Super Bowl Sunday, or even my birthday. I know that if I listen to myself, I will be able to live authentically and experience life’s highs and lows and not “miss out” on anything. This feelings coexists with my love of holidays like 4th of July and Thanksgiving. I think rituals are so important culturally because they help us reinforce feelings of belonging. But it feels the most real when people gather simply because they want to, whether it’s a “big day” or not. You can’t impose meaning onto experience, and only when it arises naturally-as you said, “in unscripted fashion”–does it feel authentic.

    Your writing is a tremendous inspiration and has helped me to normalize my experiences to a much greater degree than ever before. I am thriving as a result. Thank you so much!

  13. james jay on 03.02.2013 at 15:33 (Reply)

    Rituals: I assume (one should not assume, it makes an ass of u and me, however) that at one time in our history our ancestors had many rituals, covering most aspects of their lives and The Greeks (Myths), Aborigines (Song-lines), Native Americans and other civilizations added their own as a way of making sense of the world, imparting wisdom to their ‘tribes’ and to bind together the social fabric of their communities and of course they incorporated storytelling, a basic human need set in stone in our psyche, which continues to this day in the form of literature still, television and most powerfully, in movies. They created an ‘invisible world’ which ‘supported’ the visible one and we still continue doing so and often present it through faith, worship and rituals, beliefs. Saying grace is one small one, except whereas say Native Americans would thank the animal for giving its life, we thank a God, a farmer somewhere or a food chain so long, we have no idea whence it came to us on our plate. Joseph Campbell would , I think, say that what we have done is turn a ‘thou’ into an ‘it’ with our modern Industrial society and consequently lost touch with who we are and our ancestry. He is not alone in these thoughts. So we are fed a diet of rituals, because those in ‘power’ see the need and rush in to fill a vacuum, as the old ways disappear or are changed beyond recognition and we are still very susceptible to storytelling (hence why they still employ salesman at car dealerships! I was one!), and we do believe the stories we tell ourselves.
    As I have got older (now 57…I don’t look it?….thanks) I think I have begun to see through things more clearly and what a false ‘God’ of ritual is and is not and not to place too much importance by the ones that treat people/animal/anything really as an it rather than a thou. All things must pass, pass away (George Harrison) and but we still need our Heroes, our time for reflection, our families, our means of support and within all these we will find rituals of our own, which somehow collectively can turn the personal into the universal.
    Thank you.
    (I’m English, don’t really understand Superbowl anyway! but Go Ravens!)

  14. Steve Woodruff on 03.02.2013 at 15:40 (Reply)

    Ha – sounds familiar. I have a native aversion toward cultural norms and rituals. I think it’s my New England independence and my suspicion of being carried along with the tide – any tide! Really don’t know if this is tied to my introversion or separate from it, however – I suspect perhaps the latter.

  15. David Bley on 03.02.2013 at 15:50 (Reply)

    I can only speak for myself. I don’t care for professional or college sports. I do like to watch little kids play sports (as long as parents are not overly involved). They are cute. I do think that it is a shame that so much time and money are devoted to sports. I would much rather spend money and time on libraries and makerspaces. We should have star teachers than star players. I think that sports should teach sportsmanship. I don’t see any of that in pro or college sports.

    I myself am useless in playing any sport. When I was in high school, I was more interested in learning electronics, and I did but the budget for the classes was very little because the high school sports programs were given all the funds.

    I also tend to be more spontaneous and less ritualistic. I also tend to live inside my head instead of externally.

    Meyers-Briggs: INTJ (MasterMind)

  16. Rich Day on 03.02.2013 at 15:50 (Reply)

    Susan, I will be with friends today, some of which are die hard football fans. Chicago Bears fans, Cheese heads from Green Bay. Football for them is a means of expression, our frienship and the reason we get together go much further. I both envy to some degree and do not understand to some degree those who get so involved in football. For those that do I am reminded that there is inside, much more. Having said all of that, I am so happy you are who you are, I wouldn’t change a single little thing. I do see you respond at random moments to random posts with the depth of your great and caring soul. And compared to these meaningful moments, what is football?? All of these rituals are just the ways we have found to come together. So much greater are all of us who do so, but for now, perhaps this is the only way we know how.

  17. Diane Geiger on 03.02.2013 at 15:52 (Reply)

    I think I might share many of your thoughts/feelings that you have expressed here, as I understand them, regarding social ritual. I don’t care for many of the gatherings and events, yet also do emotioanlly engage in some, and would not necessarily want to live without them (as you mentioned, in regards to your appreciation for weddings, Yom Kippur, and lighting the Christmastime lights each year.)

    For myself, I sometimes wonder if my aversion to many (but not all) social ritual is due to how innundated we are with it these days, and how overblown they’ve become.

    When I speak with older relatives who grew up in the beginning 1/2 of the 20th Century, they talk about nice it was to celebrate with family and community. These were special occassions. You were happy just to be together and share a warm meal. But the celebrations were fewer and farther between than they are now, and often happened within their local community, if not on their own family street block.

    These days, many of us have such expansive networks, friends/family who’ve moved away, divorce/remarriage situations creating multiple fragmented family off-shoots, children who are involved in activities that expand their networks of frineds and who may live 20+ miles away. The invitations to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, going away parties, etc., can be overwhelming, and can involve long drives, and even plane tickets and hotel reservations. (And of course, expensive gifts!)

    For many of us, a typical weekend can involve several celebration-type events,in multiple locations; in distant suburbs, or even out-of-town. Requiring a lot of rushing around, leaving early/arriving late, lots of driving. In the past, it sounds like it was more common for everyone in one’s network to be at THE family or community event that was happening that day/week/month.

    Celebrations also used to be simpler and more modest. Birthday parties might include the family celebrating over a homebaked cake.

    These days, it seems like it’s often not considered a “real celebration” unless there are 35 friends involved, lots of presents, a magic show performed by a professional magician, pony rides out in the backyard. Oh, and gift bags for all the guests to take home with them.

    Modest and heartfelt recognition doesn’t seem to cut it, these days. And the volume of events and celebrations can be huge. For me, I think I’m more averse to those aspects, than anything else.

    1. Suzanne on 03.02.2013 at 16:10 (Reply)

      We used to live in a farming community where there was great distances between farms. Everyone on one long road managed to get together once a year around Christmas. These were fun, worthwhile gatherings – everyone brought food and shared with no further obligations to attend every little celebration in between.

  18. John Leonard on 03.02.2013 at 15:55 (Reply)

    I don’t mind rituals if they’re low key. Easter has always been a pretty mellow, low-pressure holiday, and I like celebrating birthdays with just a few close friends. Even Christmas I have learned to celebrate in my own way. There is just no way I know of that one can celebrate the Super Bowl “in their own way.” It is either wretched, bombastic, extraverted excess or nothing.

  19. Tomás Rosado on 03.02.2013 at 16:00 (Reply)

    “I just don’t care much about birthdays and holiday celebrations. I tend to let the feelings that are supposed to be evoked by these events happen when they will, and trust that I’m going to experience the full range of human emotions and experiences over the course of a year, as opposed to waiting for them to occur on the day the ritual tells me they should.”

    I feel exactly the same way about birthdays and the holidays. And what you say about rituals, I feel about traditions: Some of them are fine, but others I do not identify with at all or I think should be abolished (because they’re outdated or just plain wrong).

    As for football, I prefer the playoffs to the Super Bowl. :-)

  20. Helen Dunne on 03.02.2013 at 16:05 (Reply)

    Whilst I don’t enjoy or adhere to some of the shared rituals in Western culture, I understand why we would have them which is to encourage people or remind them to think of others, to do good etc.

    LIke you, Susan, I would prefer to behave in a manner that is not enforced by a ritual on one day; New Years is one that I particularly don’t like because it marks time and leaves me feeling unsettled.

    Birthdays I do love but it shouldn’t require a day to tell someone how special they are or to give a fabulous present. The beauty of social celebrations is that they can be taken or left.

  21. Opal on 03.02.2013 at 16:11 (Reply)

    Hi Susan,

    My thoughts exactly of tonight, along with all the other social rituals out there. I’m not going to lie, there tends to be some stress I experience along with having to keep up with these “obligations.” It’s not to say that these events don’t have some positive outcomes, but there is more to life than these standards and mainstreams we see everyday. Throughout time, these standards have lost their genuine meaning that something as simple as staying in on a weekend or a holiday is all that is necessary and fulfilling. I may be taking this out of context as far as the stress I feel. I may just be a hypersensitive introvert. But I can’t help but to question, is it worth the stress of trying to uphold these social obligations, or the autonomy of partaking in the things I love without the social recognition? I want to go with the second option, even though it may be rather counterculture.

  22. cityapril on 03.02.2013 at 16:15 (Reply)

    i’m a serious introvert (maxed out the introversion score on my myers-briggs). for the last 3 years, i’ve celebrated my birthdays on my own. i realize how sad that sounds to other, non-introverted people (and even to some introverts). but you know what? they’ve been some of the best birthdays ever. no pressure to create an amazing night out for other people. no pretending to feel any other way than how i happen to feel that day. doing just what i want, which is usually walking the city, taking photos, and eating a lot of cake and ice cream.

    as i’ve gotten older, i’ve realized just how much ‘social performance’ often goes into holidays and just how tired i am of creating those performances.

    on the other hand, sometimes the structure of social rituals can be comforting, like superbowl sunday. i don’t care for football at all, but it’s nice to know that if i felt the need to be social this weekend, it’s pretty easy to find and fit into those pre-made events.

  23. Melissa Ng on 03.02.2013 at 16:42 (Reply)

    “But mostly I prefer to mark life’s earthshaking milestones– and the steady progression of time — in unscripted fashion.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I used to think that I was supposed to want all the big parties, birthday bashes, and nights out to the bar. I even sought them out to “train myself.”

    Over time, I learned to play my part well enough to convince others. If I didn’t, they still expected me to play along. But even after all the effort, I still could not completely convince myself.

    Thankfully, I know myself better now. The funny thing is that whenever I tell friends I don’t want to celebrate my birthday, they’re convinced I’m either depressed or need to learn/re-learn how to have “real fun.” I express my feelings about it and some understand while others just think something’s wrong with me. I don’t mind anymore.

    Honestly, I just enjoy spending my time with the people I know I can truly connect with in a quieter setting. For birthdays, I celebrate with 2-3 people at most and celebrate holidays with close family members. Sure, once in a while I enjoy a party or two with friends…just as long as it’s not centered around me.

    (And I completely forget it was Superbowl up until I saw your blog post…shame on me? Ha.)

  24. Maureen on 03.02.2013 at 17:31 (Reply)

    My sentiments exactly. When I am forced to celebrate something I rebel like a little child. Can’t stand the expectation, just want to leave each day enjoying without these crazy ups and downs!

  25. Grace on 03.02.2013 at 17:38 (Reply)

    I understand why many people love things like Superbowl Sunday and other social rituals. I have had a good time at such events when people I felt comfortable with were involved. I have to assume that for many people the events don’t feel like chores but something that’s completely natural. For me, though, they are unnecessary and not required for me to feel good, connected or happy. I DO wish that others would understand my preferences as I think I understand theirs. It’s not that one way of being is right and one way of being is wrong, it’s just different. Thank you Susan for being the champion for all things “quiet”.

  26. Ann Ballard Bryan on 03.02.2013 at 17:44 (Reply)

    Superbowl???? I’m just waiting for Downton Abbey.

  27. Philip Johnson on 03.02.2013 at 18:09 (Reply)

    Susan;
    I have always believed that some rituals are good and have meaning in my life. I go to church and sing, recite my sins before GOD and pray and take communion. These rituals are not easy, I would rather be on the couch with a newspaper but I know that my psyche needs the regular and continual nudging towards a righteous life. Then again there are the rituals such as we see in sports. I live a mile from the Super Dome and right now I am seeing screaming a yelling and drunkeness that is associated with the “enjoyment” of sports. I played football in HS and College and yet I never go to games here because of the screaming, beer throwing, fighting and foul language. I prefer to watch the games with my wife at home where the atmosphere is calm and adult. The measure of a social ritual IMHO is whether it is adult, positive, and uplifting or juvenile. I want to go out on my front gallery and shout GROW UP.

  28. Velanche Stewart on 03.02.2013 at 19:21 (Reply)

    For about the first 35 years of my life, I’ve had vision and hearing issues. I’ve rarely participated in any sports activities, for a variety of reasons. Even now, when I have relatively good vision after 35 (but blind in my left one), I get the most satisfaction being a participant rather than a spectator. I don’t have anything against social rituals, though for a long time, up until a few years ago, I felt that not being part of it meant that I was an outsider. Well, it kinda does, but now I understand it for different, and more worthwhile, reasons. In my mind, it’s ultimately a choice we make, even if to only satisfy friends and family. I do feel that it’s a healthy thing, but I also feel that it’s just as healthy to make the choice of not having to participate.

    I also felt that way about New Year’s Eve, Susan; I’ve rarely gone to such events. And when I do, it’s with one or two friends and (mostly) acquaintances. Eventually, they break off elsewhere, and I’m in this sea of people having to navigate through the labyrinth for myself. It eventually has me looking for the exit; I usually don’t stay for very long. For instance, there’s a local NYE event that I know of, and if I’m not DJing at the event, I’d rather not be there. This goes for other DJ-related events (DJing is just one of the things that I do). Again, participant > spectator.

    Susan, I found your blog post dead on and it resonates with my own feelings about such activities. Right now, I’m typing this from one of my favorite cafes, where I usually edit my music radio show/podcast and also plan for the week ahead. There’s hardly anyone here, and there’s no crowd here gathering and watching and cheering on for the Super Bowl. I thought so, and I welcome it; my mind is freed up, I”m around people who also, I think, aren’t into the ritual, and I can get some things done. I know that Sundays might be a time for rest, but for me it’s about a refresh for the week ahead….and I do get some R&R in there.

    Thanks again for your post, and for everyone who’s shared (I enjoyed reading the comments). I will share the chorus when I say that your book has been a revelation, as well as an affirmation. I’m very much looking forward to your next.

  29. [...] in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. She also has a blog and recently wrote a post about social rituals such as Super Bowl Sunday. Being an introvert, I can related to how one might [...]

  30. terry grant on 04.02.2013 at 01:10 (Reply)

    I wrote earlier on my own blog that I view Super Bowl Sunday as a day that I can go about my own business and get things done that I want to do while the rest of the world sits in front of the TV. I share your feelings. Birthdays are fine and nice when I’m remembered but for me the perfect birthday is having the day to myself without obligations to others. That would be a *real* gift. I am ambivalent about holidays. Being with my grandchildren and sharing in their gifts and special treats is lovely. Christmas parties are torture. And then there are ordinary days that become so special that I have to tell myself that I must never forget them. Almost never are those predetermined or planned. Sometimes I envy those who seem to so treasure their social rituals and find them so rewarding, but I also feel it is a fragile and unreliable framework around which to fashion one’s joy and I believe more firmly in my own recognition of what makes a day something to remember.

  31. Sarah on 04.02.2013 at 09:01 (Reply)

    It’s only since beginning to read your work that I’ve been able to realize that when I feel like staying in or being a homebody or not getting excited about some rituals, *I am not broken* . I can’t begin to tell you how much that means to know. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  32. Ross on 04.02.2013 at 18:59 (Reply)

    Thanks for yet another great post. I love reading your articles as they always seem to appear at the right time, when I’m thinking along the same lines! I have my 21st birthday at the end of this month and I have purposely strung it out in a weeks worth of surfing at a beachfront apartment, where my friends can come any night they want :) Looking forward to it!

  33. Craig on 04.02.2013 at 19:32 (Reply)

    Amazing…glad I am not the only one that feels this way. I really feel like I am most of the time.

  34. Chris on 04.02.2013 at 19:57 (Reply)

    I always felt guilty about not having what seemed to be the appropriate emotions during these things; birthdays, Superbowls, etc. I thought for most of my life that because I didn’t have the same excitement or desire to participate, something about me was wrong.

    I still feel like I should want to do more of these things, but I try to catch myself in that thought process and divert my attention to the fact that in the same instant I’ve already acknowledged that I know I don’t want to participate or don’t feel the same way as others. I allow myself now to be okay with not fulling what others may expect or want from me all the time. Now I try to be honest with myself, and say what I actually want and do it – to stay home instead.

    I think that it’s important to be okay with not being able to satisfy others expectations of you. I recently chose to stay at home instead of going to a party that many of my friends were attending for the Superbowl also. I felt a moments guilt, remembered that I didn’t want to go and that was okay, and then settled in to watch the commercials (I’m also completely indifferent to football).

  35. Allen on 04.02.2013 at 20:08 (Reply)

    You express the thoughts that have always filled my mind. Thank you Susan for sharing the thoughts and feelings of the downtrodded introverts with the world.

  36. Diane on 04.02.2013 at 21:23 (Reply)

    I look forward to SuperBowl Sunday, despite my “indifference to football” because while most of America sits mesmerized by television screens, the stores sit nearly devoid of customers. I can do my shopping in the serenity of a nearly empty grocery store, without all of the jostling, noise, and lines that usually accompany shopping trips. Thank you for commenting on the “big game”!

  37. Ray DoRayMeFa on 04.02.2013 at 23:03 (Reply)

    I do think that rituals have a valued place in human psychology, but I think of valued rituals as having to do with spirituality, or for their calming in times of crisis, or for bringing a sense of camaraderie with others who practice, or for lubricating initial interactions between strangers, etc. I agree that rituals shouldn’t be imposed by schedule.

    That said, I don’t see the Super Bowl mania as being a ritual (which I see as formal procedures). I see it as an unmistakably informal break from dreary winter days or mind-numbing jobs or the like: It’s something to which we can look forward. It’s the one football game I might watch–but only if in a group in which I feel comfortable.

  38. Johnw on 04.02.2013 at 23:29 (Reply)

    Susan, thank you for your book, and this post about rituals.
    At the same time as I read this post, I am reading a chapter in the book “What Makes Us Tick” by Hugh MacKay (http://www.amazon.com/What-Makes-Us-Tick-ebook/dp/B006FLJVOE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1360037847&sr=8-2&keywords=What+makes+us+tick) that deals with our human need to belong to a herd, which he defines as a small, close, group of 6-8 people, verses a tribe. The Super Bowl, and other similar mass sporting events are tribal, with all the problems they create.
    I am a strong introvert (INTJ), who feels comfortable in a small herd and regard tribes as something to be observed, particularly when the tribe is joyous, it is a good thing to experience, but not necessarily take part in.
    MacKay’s observations are very valid, and I have got a lot out of his book, but he does not understand, or seem to acknowledge, introverts, which detracts somewhat from his research and analysis.
    Reading your book, and watching your TED Talk, was a great help, as you have given me a huge understanding of myself, and the extroverts who need to take over spaces and places.

  39. Lesley on 05.02.2013 at 00:25 (Reply)

    I believe rituals are a very important part of the human experience. I love the writings of Joseph Campbell and he explores this at great length. I too find birthdays, Valentines Day and Christmas utterly exhausting though. Yet I live Thanksgiving Day, because of the rituals surrounding the coming together of loved ones to share a meal. I don’t enjoy participating in a ritual just because it is expected of me. Yet honor the feelings of other for whom rituals are so important.

  40. Lucy on 05.02.2013 at 00:37 (Reply)

    All I wanted to do after the game was to turn off the noise! I am INTJ and hubby is An E something And he agreed, no more sound!

    I love your book, but wish there had been recognition of this 30 years ago. I have spent my life fitting into someone’s idea of who I should be and yes, that was me with my nose stuck in a book. My mother liked to tell people that they never knew that I was there because I was so quiet.

    I know people can flex with their personality types until they break – thanks for making it ok to be the quiet one.

  41. Håkan Kjellin on 05.02.2013 at 01:42 (Reply)

    Couldn’t agree more :-)

  42. Christo Volschenk on 05.02.2013 at 05:04 (Reply)

    Hi Susan,

    Thanks for that spot-on observation. I cannot say how many times the topic of “having to be in a festive mood, because the calendar says I should be”, has been an issue in my life. Never again.

  43. Lynn Bridge on 05.02.2013 at 06:52 (Reply)

    I have a little different perspective on rituals than you do. For one thing, I don’t associate rituals with my emotions. I associate communal ritual with community-building. These take place in the context of reinforcing shared understanding and responsibility. Weddings, for example, are not all about the bride and groom, or the bride and bride, or the groom and groom. Presumably, in the early stages at least, the couple’s relationship with each other is already cemented. The wedding is public for a reason- it signifies that the community understands that these two people have each other’s backs- they are looking after each other, and will continue to look after an entire family, if children are in the picture. Also, a wedding is a time for the community to come together to promise to support the couple’s marriage when the bond becomes stressed or weak. As a wedding guest, I don’t need to feel any particular emotions at the time in order to make this a deeply meaningful ritual. The ritual is not all about me, it’s not about the couple per se, it is about community.

    Now, if our society is reduced to only caring about rituals based on economics, such as the Super Bowl or christmas ( with a lower-case c), then we are a pathetic bunch, aren’t we?

  44. Lisa Dewey on 05.02.2013 at 09:16 (Reply)

    Social rituals are necessary and a integral part of our human existence. I do feel that it is OK to redefine the rituals, perhaps more in accordance to the ebb and flows of life and of seasons. For me the winter holidays are a time to rest and regroup, of contemplation. That for me feels more in accordance to the season. Summer and fall seems more a time for active or very social rituals, according to the energy of the season. Perhaps introverts are just more in tune with that energy, and that is OK. We shouldn’t apologize for that.

  45. L. Carter on 05.02.2013 at 09:51 (Reply)

    I totally agree with you. I hate football & don’t get the “tribal bonding” of the Super Bowl. Big yawn – who cares? (Now the World Series? That’s different. But then again, baseball is different. LOL)

    But seriously, I’m like you too about holidays and stuff like that. Plus there are SO many unrealistic expectations around something like birthdays and especially (to me) New Year’s Eve. I prefer quiet celebrations with a few close friends who I can actually TALK to over loud parties where I don’t know anyone and can’t hear anything being said to me.

    1. Lynne on 05.02.2013 at 13:15 (Reply)

      You bring up an interesting side note! I’ll bet that more introverts prefer baseball over football than the other way around – but that’s for another topic!

  46. JL Rivers on 05.02.2013 at 10:17 (Reply)

    I feel exactly the same way – that’s why I attended my brother’s wedding two years after it passed. :)
    All bad joking aside, rituals are about connecting with others in a social setting in a predetermined, rigid way. A way dictated to us by the protocols of the occasion. The better we follow said protocols the more sense of worth humans attain in both their eyes and the eyes of others.
    For those of us who would rather connect in a more personal, one-on-one way, rituals steal the substance and purpose of what connecting with others should be all about.

  47. Ava on 05.02.2013 at 11:05 (Reply)

    Oh, this is amazing! So perfect! I spent years feeling so confused, being told I was experiencing the wrong emotions, wondering what was wrong with me. I just don’t like holidays. Thank you!

  48. Kris on 05.02.2013 at 13:01 (Reply)

    Not only do I feel exactly the same way…. I thought I was the only one who felt this way and that I was odd. I cannot believe how many people feel the same as I do!

  49. Chris Reinhart on 05.02.2013 at 21:22 (Reply)

    I must say that I love super bowl Sunday – not because I love football (I don’t) but because that means that most people are home watching the game and I can go grocery shopping and there is almost no one else there! It’s great to roam the aisles quietly and at my own pace.
    For me too most social rituals appear juvenile and forced. I feel “used” if I am expected to feel or behave in a way that I don’t necessarily feel at that time.

  50. Mark Spyker on 06.02.2013 at 01:53 (Reply)

    I think that social rituals are absolutely crucial to a psychologically/spiritually healthy life, particularly for us introverts. Before you silence me, however, let me explain why. I have recently discovered that my paternal grandmother was born in Gosforth, Northumberland, in 1902, which just happens to be the place I spent a week with my young wife in a visit from South Africa in 1987, completely unaware of the family connection. In that village were probably a whole host of cousins only 2 generations removed from me, who have no existence in my life, and yet would have been inextricably bound up with me little more than 100 years ago. Social rituals provided the glue of society, permeated with the narratives of kinship, and rooted in places of permanence, where a shared history helped to give our lives meaning and purpose.

    Fortunately I have had the experience of such on a minor scale: my mother’s 70th birthday which brought another whole side of my family together for the first time in decades; the funeral of my young son which bound up all my closest relatives together for the 1st time since our wedding, to share in our grief; my 50th birthday which allowed me to bring together completely disparate cultural, language, and family groups together for the 1st time ever.

    This can be one of the greatest strengths of the church when it operates fully to potential. One of the most special nights of my life occurred recently at the 80th birthday celebration of a dear church elder who looked far lovelier than all the youngsters present as she joyously danced the night away! And who says the elderly cannot be creative: in place of speeches she simply and lovingly honoured every person present by telling them what she remembered and loved about them!

    The tragedy of many modern social rituals is that they are attempting to do the same thing on a larger scale: the dropping of the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve; Superbowl; the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games. But really what we end up doing is replacing a sharing of the deep bonds of kinship with mere Spectacle, which even with a capital ‘S’ is nothing more than a superficial titillation of the senses: here today but gone tomorrow.

    In opposition to this, an inordinate number of comments on this blog indicate a preference for the simple joys of ‘being alone with my partner and kindle in a bath of bubbly’, which I have some sympathy for. But please, introverts, make sure that you allow the extroverts amongst us to continue to draw us out of ourselves into the enriching world of close family / social / church relationships where we have so much to learn about who we are, and perhaps more importantly, who we are in the process of becoming!

    1. Conrad on 06.02.2013 at 15:37 (Reply)

      There are two different concepts involved here. One is that social rituals do bring a certain grounding to our lives in that they provide a format for relating to others in our families, households or with other significant people. However, there is great flexibility in determining the extent to which one wants to participate, or whether to observe and celebrate the event or holiday at all. It would not be beneficial to remove all social events from one’s life as it would leave something lacking. Besides, life would be rather dull and even lonely if there were no events that generated social interaction.

      Not all such rituals are created equal. Unlike religious and universally celebrated national holidays (such as Thanksgiving and Christmas) events like the super bowl are not universal in their appeal. Also they are artificial in their nature. (The super bowl did not exist until relatively recently.) For example, I have no interest in football whatsoever; the people attending game parties are all football fans (and some pretending to be fans, simply because they can’t say no). Attending such gatherings is entirely optional and nothing is lacking from your life if football is not your cup of tea and you opt out of attending the party.

      As mentioned, such events such as the super bowl and New Year’s Eve televised parties is a passive spectator sport which is viewed primarily on television – our modern electronic hearth. It has similarity to the free mass entertainment provided by the coliseum in ancient Rome. Ever since the advent of modern mass media we are constantly bombarded by mass marketing messages including that of shaping cultural expectations. We are being brainwashed into saying yes to anything that is suggested or expected of us. Some actually watch the televised event to see the advertising!

      Deciding for oneself involves making choices – and being selective includes having the ability to discriminate, including saying no.

    2. Diane on 08.02.2013 at 09:22 (Reply)

      Mark, I think so much of what you’ve said here is very thought-provoking and it resonates with me, personally. Your concluding sentiment kinda rubs me the wrong way, however. (“…please, introverts, make sure that you allow the extroverts amongst us to continue to draw us out of ourselves into the enriching world of close family / social / church relationships.”)

      I think that statement perpetuates an untrue stereotype.

      In my experience, the extroverts among us have a tendency to work towards dragging us into the “spectacle”-type events that you described. Mindless social fluff and frenzy.

      To me it seems that it’s often the introverts among us (possibly evidenced, also, by many of the comments here) who are the ones to most often value, enjoy, and even orchestrate the very types of enriching, heartfelt, deeply meaningful events that you described in your post.

      The common stereotype is that extrovert=social vs. introvert=not social. I think that’s off-base. The dividing line (if there is one) seems more akin to the one you suggest in the beginning and middle parts of your post: spectacle/titilation vs. meaningful connection/deep bonds of kinship.

      Many of the responses here have been in regards to Superbowl parties, specifically, and whether or not we plan to attend, and what we think of social ritual of that sort, compared to other sorts. So while there may be many responses along the lines of “I’d rather stay home than go to a Superbowl pary”, it’s important to remember that the initial post did not post the question of what we’d choose if the options were A)Superbowl Party, B)Stay home in solitude, C) Attend the 80th birthday party of a dear friend who will dance the night away enjoying herself and will lovingly honor each friend in attendance by sharing what she remembers and loves about them.

      Given the options of A vs. B, many introverts probably choose B. If the options shirt and the choice is one between B vs. C I don’t necessarily think that B would remain the predominant preference among introverts.

      Lastly, my heart goes out to you and the loss of your young son. It’s beautiful to hear that your closest relatives came together to bring their love and support to you during that time of great loss.

  51. james jay on 06.02.2013 at 06:59 (Reply)

    Well said Mark, interesting observations, rituals and ceremonies perform a basic function of human existence there is no doubt, I suppose its the scale and who is leading them that may be questionable. In Italy there are customs and rituals performed in their hundreds if not thousands and I imagine they give the community a sense of bonding and yes I suppose everyone knows everyone’s business too, but then is that so bad? How much more difficult does that make it to kill someone with a gun when you know them intimately, in fact perhaps little spats do not get as far as that, its sorted at a lower level, family business. I think its a case of us all making ourselves the hero of our own lives. That does not mean you have to lead a high and mighty life, it can be very humble. One example would be Neil Armstrong, no doubt he had his rituals too, well practiced ones, if he hadn’t had them, maybe his lunar landing would not have been as good! As famous as he was, though he was averse to the fame, on a smaller scale, but no less as impressive, President Kennedy on visiting Cape Canaveral asked a man sweeping the floor what he was doing. ‘Sir’ he said, ‘I’m helping to put a man on the Moon’.

  52. Tom L on 06.02.2013 at 11:42 (Reply)

    Superbowl SUnday: I have no use for sports, but I watch the groupthink with amazement, and think to myself “Lemmings”. When a gung ho office mate slaps my back and says didja see that XXX end run play last night I just say “I’m sorry, I dont follow basketball.” To a certain degree many rituals are a contrived opportunity for extroverts to get together and see who can outtalk who. In todays world, the marketing folks (bless their little black MBA hearts) see these rituals as a golden opportunity to cash in and pump them up vigorously – as in Black Friday, or Christmas ads that show a Lexus with a hugh red velvet ribbon gift wrapped. Give me a break. I watch them with bemusement, but only so long as I am safely locked in my house with a book and a quilt in a comfy chair where I am sure I’m not going to be sucked into it. “Quiet” has helped me erase the last 5% of guilt that maybe something is wrong with me. Thank you so very much Susan.

  53. bert messam on 06.02.2013 at 14:16 (Reply)

    I am not alone!!

  54. Phillip H on 06.02.2013 at 14:32 (Reply)

    We have similar thoughts on birthdays and holidays. I see no need to force-feed a random timeline with the pressure to find the right gift, work up an abundance of “spirit” or “cheer” and attend ritualistic events designated by a recurring calendar. The people I love and know…I really know them. Within any given year, when I see something that fits them perfectly, I prefer to give it to them then. Spur of the moment, randomly… in the “spirit” of creativity and spontaneity. I also agree with you that I enjoy aspects of “the holidays”… Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. I should follow my own advise and celebrate it throughout the year I suppose.
    BTW – “Quite..” is an amazing book. I tell my friends who are introverts, might be introverts or might know someone who‘s an introvert to read your book. For the first two groups, I tell them to read the last chapter first. I found your last chapter to be extremely reassuring and cathartic. And timing in which I found your book was perfect. I work as a project leader in technology at a major insurance company. Last year emphasis was placed on leadership characteristics and working in groupthink scenarios. I evangelized the need for our management and senior management to consider the introverts as well and that they too could truly benefit from reading “Quite…”
    So, thank you Susan. I can literally say you’re book changed my life – it had that much impact. Now get out there and get busy on book two. Thanks :-)

  55. Shimarenda on 07.02.2013 at 14:21 (Reply)

    I have two thought on social rituals.

    First, we should not confuse the corruption of social witness with the need for it. So many people seem to have the idea that something is only real if it is seen and shared with millions. This is not true. But it can be, and most likely is, a self-deception that our most important milestones can be tested in privacy. I think of my wedding, for example. It was not a large affair, but it was attended by family and about half a dozen friends. Our love seems too important to be “just between us.” My favorite celebrations at Christmas are private, but I also cherish going to church during Advent and on Christmas Eve to experience the anticipation as a community–it’s the required gift-giving and the “over the river and through the woods” that transform it into a stressful month.

    Building on that idea of community, I believe that social rituals and institutions should be constructed in a manner that allows for outliers. It was only when monarchies were stronger that they employed fools to ridicule them and had holidays to allow people to ignore them. Celebrations, rituals, and the like should bring the community together while allowing for the differences within that community.

    In short, social rituals lose their effect for me when someone says, “You’re doing it wrong.”

  56. Melanie on 07.02.2013 at 15:11 (Reply)

    Once again, one of the puzzles of myself has been solved. Figuring out I was an introvert and all it meant was the complete lightbulb over the head moment. The holidays have been another issue for me the past several years. Other people drive me insane,wanting me to join in their enthusiasm, and I just don’t have the interest. I joke that I’m just missing the holiday gene-which I guess I kind of am. Knowing it’s part of being an introvert and that there are lots of others who feel the same about holidays and things like the Super Bowl, just makes another piece slide into place. Yay. :)

  57. Michelle on 09.02.2013 at 03:39 (Reply)

    Loved your post, and your book. Would add to the dialogue, with a quote from A. Maslow I found supportive. It has helped me approach social rituals with greater patience and gentleness…for myself and others:

    “The self-actualized person will go thru the rituals of convention with a good humored shrug and the best possible grace.”

    1. Emilie on 11.02.2013 at 12:30 (Reply)

      Thanks for your comment. I would add that while I sympathize with the introvert’s tendency to avoid meaningless rituals (and yes, the Super Bowl is meaningless for me as it is for some readers), sometimes rituals can actually be helpful to my introverted tendencies- they give me a scripted way to participate with a group of people in something that is meaningful. The repetition is comforting and helps me to socialize. For example, during my own undergraduate college experience, I loved singing our school alma mater and fight song with the glee club, and loved to gather with a close group of friends to watch games (and yes, to drink beer as well!)

  58. Jemi on 10.02.2013 at 13:52 (Reply)

    Only in the last few years have I learned to prioritize those social rituals I will participate in. The ones that matter to me and my loved ones,or ones where I want to get to know people in my career. Otherwise, it is a drain on energy and provides no sense of satisfaction.

    So much of your book gave me insights into how to thrive as an introvert. I just wish it had been written 20 years ago!

  59. ghada on 10.02.2013 at 16:04 (Reply)

    i never did understand the attraction of most holidays, which only seem to emphasize the rationalization behind having a day off. Eid was the sole exception to this: as a child, i enjoyed the early morning prayers, the meetings with friends, and the games/contests organized by parents.
    now, Eid means family (to the point of slight overcrowding), food, and more tea cups than i care to wash. it has pretty much joined the ranks of birthdays and anniversaries, both of which i don’t much care for anymore because the focus has shifted toward the purely social aspect. today, i’d much rather celebrate on a smaller scale by catching up on some reading or watching a good movie.

  60. [...] “But maybe my preference to stay home on New Year’s Eve is unrelated to introversion. It may have more to do with my feelings toward social ritual. I just don’t care much about birthdays and holiday celebrations. I tend to let the feelings that are supposed to be evoked by these events happen when they will, and trust that I’m going to experience the full range of human emotions and experiences over the course of a year, as opposed to waiting for them to occur on the day the ritual tells me they should.” Are Social Rituals Necessary? Thoughts on Super Bowl Sunday – By Susan Cain [...]

  61. Ron S. on 10.04.2013 at 21:40 (Reply)

    I feel as if you touched on something very important in our human lives and more so for the introverts. It is the sense of seeing the rememberences of what the holidays or celebrations emobody, throughout its natural process on any given day. Not stuck to only show love for your other on “valentines day” or love for your mother on “mothers day”. Though these can be reflecting points so we don’t forget, it is important to see the celebrations in each day for any reason given at its particular time. Though at times we should challenge ourselves to celebrate with others, mix it up and do something different for the sake of harmony with our extrovert family,lol.

  62. soy candle on 14.06.2013 at 08:29 (Reply)

    You made certain good points there. I did a search on the subject and found nearly all people will go along with with your blog.

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