The primary reasons for doing so are twofold: 1) to interrupt or stop obsessively compulsive, unproductive behavior, and 2) to provide the opportunity to introduce a more productive alternative form of behavior. These two steps constitute the basic building blocks of addiction recovery. In essence, most recovery programs seek to replace -- over time -- the damaging and counterproductive rituals of addiction with more meaningful, more productive rituals.
I would define a ritual of addiction as any regularly performed compulsive behavior that contributes first and foremost to the satisfaction of the obsession or addiction itself. (Checking your e-mail every five minutes would likely qualify as a ritual of addiction under the above definition. So would much if not most of our average 11.7 hours of daily media consumption.)
By contrast, meaningful ritual is defined as any regularly scheduled act that contributes to the long-term enhancement of one or more of our four basic human needs: physical, spiritual, emotional, and social. The satisfaction of these four basic needs represents the essential process by which we assess the value of our various life relationships (how and where we spend our time), including our relationships with work (where most of us spend most of our time).
For instance, your job may pay you lots of money and thereby satisfy your physical needs, but may also be spiritually devoid or emotionally barren. Or it may be emotionally and socially rich, but pay peanuts instead. Or it may satisfy all or none of your basic needs. Regardless, we apply the same basic criteria to all of our relationships.
When we spend most of our time in relationships with our obsessions and addictions, however, we can pretty much rest assured that whatever temporary physical rewards we reap from our compulsive behavior will be offset by a commensurately escalating dearth of emotional, spiritual, and -- eventually -- social fulfillment.
The time we devote to the rituals of our obsessions and addictions literally displaces time that we might otherwise devote to more meaningful rituals, those that contribute to and enhance the quality of our lives, both at home and at work. Hence my call last week to institutionalize regular intervention as a means to interrupt the default faster-smarter-better cycle of addiction and clear the decks for the introduction of something new, something more meaningful and productive.
Fortunately, the journey to enhanced quality of life and improved productivity both begin with the exact same thing: gratitude. The secret to extracting the value of all meaningful ritual -- at home or in the office -- is the overt exercise of gratitude, the exact opposite function of all commercial media and all other rituals of addiction.
Instead of focusing on the accelerated acquisition of what we don't have, gratitude turns our attention most gently to a more profound appreciation of what we do have, of those people, things, and institutions that contribute to the quality of our lives. Gratitude shifts our awareness from impoverishment and deprivation to abundance and prosperity.
Thus I would like to conclude this column on Thanksgiving Eve: with my sincere thanks and best wishes to you and yours for a warm, safe, and joyous holiday, and with a promise in the coming weeks to show you how to introduce gratitude in your workplace as a primary productivity tool.
Please note: The Einstein's Corner discussion group at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/einsteinscorner/ is dedicated to exploring the adverse effects of our addictions to technology and media on the quality of our lives, both at work and at home. Please feel free to drop by and join the discussion.