Who Matters? Do you?
Mattering is an important component of well-being
Struggling with depression, Isaac slept late every morning, just dashing out in time to be “only a little” late to work each day. His apartment never got cleaned, and meals were a hit-and-miss combination of takeout and supermarket junk food. Then his mom went on vacation and brought her dog over for him to take care of.
The dog needed regular food and water, and a walk each morning and evening. Surprising even himself, Isaac rose to the occasion and took good care of the dog. As the days went by, he found himself looking forward to the dog’s greeting at the end of each work day. He began to enjoy the coffee and pastry he got himself at the far end of each morning walk. Being needed by the dog made him feel like he mattered, and that gave him the energy he needed to start looking outwards again.
Mattering is key to our sense of self. Sometimes confused with related needs like self-esteem or a sense of purpose, mattering is the belief that one is adding value to the world in some meaningful way, and the knowledge that other people recognize and appreciate the value you are adding. You may be doing necessary work, but if everyone takes it for granted, or thinks it unimportant, you are not being valued. OR you may feel that you work and work and never make any difference in the world: you think you don’t matter.
Both aspects are necessary for mattering: making a valuable contribution, and being recognized and valued for it. Research shows that people who believe they matter experience more self-confidence and self-compassion, while people who lack mattering are more susceptible to burnout, depression, self-criticism, anxiety, and risk of suicide.
Mattering, as Isaac found, can increase with some simple steps. If you don’t have a dog or other pet, consider helping an elderly neighbor. Think about the things you are already doing and look for the ways your work has impact. At work, a good technique is to observe other people’s mattering and point out when someone makes a valuable contribution. This will train them to also be more aware of your (and others’) impact and reflect mattering back.
Listen for times in your life when you’re telling yourself “I don’t matter” and take a step back from that judgment to remember the people you are important to. Watch for others around you who may be lacking a sense of mattering and take a moment to point out something they contribute that you’re grateful for. Everyone matters, but we don’t always have a feeling of mattering. Fortunately there are things we can do to increase our own and others’ sense of mattering.