- To feel as though we matter is essential to our mental health and well-being.
- Mattering is the sense that you count, you would be missed, and you have something to contribute.
- Mattering is something we can change and build.
I sat in the white rattan chair waiting for my Mom. She was in the dressing room, trying on clothes. She rarely bought any. Bright glossy spotlights shone down on the fuchsia and black décor, fancy for the late 70s.
I don’t remember how old I was, probably about 10. But I do remember how I felt.
We’d come to the big city for an appointment and then stopped at the mall. I got a new pair of shoes. Royal blue awesomeness. I was looking at them when Mom came out of the dressing room.
She was unsure of the outfit she was trying on. “How does it look?” she asked, twirling around in the mirror. I liked it. And told her so. I encouraged her to buy it. When she did, a kind of pride ran through me. I felt, well, puffed up. I didn’t have a word for what I was feeling then. But I do now.
I felt that I mattered.
The Value of Mattering
Mattering is the feeling that we have value and can also contribute something of value to others, according to Gordon Flett, Ph.D., a psychology professor at York University and the author of The Psychology of Mattering: Understanding the Human Need to be Significant.
Flett says it this way, “It’s the feeling that somebody would care if we didn’t show up.”
And it’s important to our mental health and wellbeing, he says.
Why We Need to Matter
When my mom asked me, a little kid at the time, about her outfit, I felt like she valued my opinion. I mattered. And that feeling can actually prompt us to do things that build that sense of worth for ourselves and others.
On the flip side, those who don’t feel as though they matter to anyone are more likely to suffer from burnout, anxiety, and depression. They also have a higher risk of aggressive behavior and death by suicide.
It’s a human need to want to feel valued. Yet, throughout our lives, it’s also likely we’ll experience phases or environments where we don't feel like we are. Instead, we go unnoticed and feel invisible, or even incapable of making a contribution.
When a teacher overlooks our abilities, a parent neglects our needs, or our abilities are minimized at work, it can be difficult to identify our own value. These things chip away at our sense of mattering. But Flett and others say there are steps we can take to overcome these feelings. Mattering is "malleable," he says, and when we build it we can help others feel that they matter too.
Making it Matter
To boost our value or feel as though we matter we’ve got to show up. To participate. Here are some ways to do it.
Share your skills. What are you good at? How can you help? What can you share? When we understand what we have to offer—a casserole to a sick neighbor, support to a coworker, volunteer hours to a charity, our creativity, compassion, and support—we can do more of those things and make a positive impact on people who can use what we have to share. Identify what you have to give, then find places to share those skills and qualities.
Ask questions and listen well for the answers. Expressing interest in others by asking meaningful questions and listening attentively to the answers helps people feel heard and that leaves us both feeling like we matter.
Share gratitude and appreciation. Sometimes we overlook the positive contributions we are making to the world and how much we matter to others. But we can make sure others know how much they matter to us. It’s powerful to take time each day to reflect on those who have done things that are important to you, those people whom you appreciate, and then share your gratitude and appreciation with them. Doing that can help us identify our own contributions too.
Let others help. Help others. The value and sense of mattering we experience increases when we feel valued by others. Help others. Support friends. Contribute to your community. Volunteer for organizations you care about. And, gracefully allow others to help you. When we know we’ve added value to someone’s life by helping them, we feel like we matter. You can do that by giving and receiving.
Show up with good effort and attitude. Mattering—both increasing your sense of value and letting others know they matter to you—is about participating. Show up consistently. Elevate the energy in every room you enter. You don’t have to be loud or boisterous to make a positive difference, but adding value by making others feel noticed and appreciated is an active thing.
Write thank you notes. Listen well. Notice others and offer compassion. Pay attention and notice what people like and don’t like. Get up to greet your partner when they come home at the end of the day.
Everyone counts. Everyone is important. When we remind others that they matter then we matter too.