- Feeling that you matter to others often has greater value than simply feeling you "belong."
- Showing others that they matter, especially when they are struggling, can turn around their lives.
- Mattering to the people we love means that they value us and that we add value to the relationship.
When we talk about how we can facilitate mental wellness, we often talk about the value of ensuring others have a sense of belonging. Whether it’s belonging in the workplace, the schoolyard, or the community, having a sense of belonging can make a significant difference in how you feel about showing up in life.
However, while belonging does give a person a feeling that they are a “qualified member” of a group, it may not have the same positive effect of feeling that they matter to the group to which they belong. “Belonging” doesn’t necessarily mean as much as “mattering” to others (Hallam, 2023).
Think about how we use the word, belonging. My possessions are my belongings, but not all of my possessions matter to me. The scissors belong in the kitchen drawer, and my plates belong in the cabinet. I belong to the team, but do my contributions matter? You belong to your family, but do they show you that your presence matters?
It's good that workplaces, organizations, schools, and other institutions are investing resources into helping ensure people feel they belong. However, does a sense of belonging automatically lead to a sense of connectedness, value to others, and commitment?
If what you do is felt to be valued by the group, and your contributions are seen as beneficial or desired, the positive appraisal can move the sense of belonging into a confirmation of mattering to the group. That’s where accountability arises and where we know that our presence is valued. Mattering is the product of two distinct processes at play: feeling valued by others and feeling that you add value to the group (Prilleltensky, 2014).
Mattering Is Essential to Emotional Well-Being
Mattering is nurtured in settings in which personal well-being, relational well-being, and communal well-being are all valued equally. The absence of mattering leads to unhealthy relationships, outgroups, and compromised mental health.
Research shows that the lack of a sense of mattering to others is correlated with suicidal ideation (Deas et al., 2023). With suicidal ideation, watch out for words that relate to anti-mattering. Thoughts of this kind are prevalent in online posts written by those thinking about suicide.
How Do I Know if I Matter?
The General Mattering Scale (Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981) has been used in research studies exploring the concept of mattering. It hits on some important aspects of how others lead us to feel about our own value. The five items ask us to reflect on the following:
- How important do I feel I am to other people?
- How much do others pay attention to me?
- How much do I feel I would be missed if I went away?
- Are other people interested in what I have to say?
- How much do others depend on me?
We feel that we matter when our presence is noticed and our absence is felt. We feel that we matter when others invest in seeing that we are cared for and cared about. We feel that we matter when our contributions are seen and what we bring is needed by the larger group.
We feel that we matter when others express appreciation for what we bring and what we do. Belonging may mean that there’s a place for us or that we are “entitled” to a place, but when we matter, it means that others are grateful to have us show up in that place. Belonging is knowing that there is a place at the table for me, but mattering is knowing that the others at the table need me there to feel complete.
Let People Know They Matter in the Home, the Workplace, and the Classroom
If you’re trying to “life-proof” your children, focus on helping them feel that they matter. Don’t fall into the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality where hard work receives the same reward as just showing up.
Raise your children to be good citizens of the family—where they have a voice and play a role in its smooth functioning. When they follow through on chores, acknowledge the role their contribution plays in the family. Have family meetings where even the youngest child has the chance to be heard.
If you’re trying to ensure employee loyalty and enhance job satisfaction, let them know they matter. Recognize them for individual milestones and team successes, and show your care for them in tangible ways if they suffer setbacks or face unexpected personal crises. Team leaders should create a culture of "mattering" and ensure everyone knows that they play a part in the larger whole.
If you want to support your students’ academic success, create a sense of community in your classroom. Make sure students receive useful feedback on their work, acknowledge their honest efforts, and let them know you know when they’re not putting their full effort into assignments.
10 Simple, But Effective, Ways to Show Someone They Matter
Show people that they and their feelings matter by:
Confirming their importance
- Send a text to someone just to touch base and let them know you care.
- Give an honest compliment to them that confirms their value to the greater group.
Paying attention to them
- Make time and provide space for them to share their thoughts and feelings.
- Notice and acknowledge them and engage in active listening with them.
Appreciating their presence and acknowledging their absence
- Make sure to connect with them when they show up and let them know you’re glad to see them.
- Let them know you noticed when they were absent and affirm that they were missed.
Listening to them
- Ask how they are doing and give them time to answer.
- Ask them their thoughts or perspectives on issues or tasks.
Depending on them
- Let them know what you need from them and acknowledge their efforts at providing it.
- Depending on someone means you trust them to do what they say—let people know you trust them to follow through on their word.
If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 dial 988 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
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Deas, N., Kowalski, R., Finnell, S., Radovic, E., Carroll, H., Robbins, C., ... & Brewer, L. (2023). I just want to matter: Examining the role of anti-mattering in online suicide support communities using natural language processing. Computers in Human Behavior, 139, 107499.
Hallam, I. (2023) College higher education commuter students’ experiences of belonging, mattering and persisting with their studies, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 28,3, 373-389. DOI: 10.1080/13596748.2023.2221116
Prilleltensky, I. (2014). Meaning-making, mattering, and thriving in community psychology: From co-optation to amelioration and transformation. Intervención psicosocial, 23(2), 151.
Prilleltensky, I. (2020)/ Mattering at the intersection of psychology, philosophy, and politics. Am J Community Psychol, 65, 16-34. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12368
Rosenberg, M., & McCullough, B. C. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health among adolescents. Research in Community & Mental Health, 2, 163-182.