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The Power of Mattering

Gord Flett

Gordon Flett
Canada Research Chair in Personality & Health
Department of Psychology and LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research

Everyone knows how it feels when someone makes us feel like we matter. The social psychologist Morris Rosenberg identified this feeling over 40 years ago and called it “relational mattering.” We feel like we matter when someone takes an interest in us and they see us and hear us in ways that show us they care.

Surprisingly, it is only within the past decade that mattering has become a key research theme. The COVID-19 pandemic taught us many lessons, including how much we need and value contact with the important people in our lives. Greater awareness of our need to connect has been a catalyst for key advances in mattering research. This work has linked mattering with less loneliness and greater life satisfaction. Mattering is also associated with resilience and adaptability, including more positive responses to the shift from traditional classroom learning to online learning.

My research focuses on the role of mattering in promoting youth mental health and resilience. Our studies confirm that high school students who feel like they matter are relatively protected from anxiety and depression and engage in fewer risk acts. It also predicts academic engagement and higher grades!

Mattering can play a vital role in prevention and health promotion. What can parents do to promote it in their children? First, show your children they matter and, as they get older, keep showing them. Spend time with them and be fully engaged and interested in them and what they are interested in.  Learn how to listen and give them a voice in family decisions.  Ask them what is really going on inside of them in terms of their thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears. Tell them when you have been missing time together. And express your faith and belief in them.

Importantly, mattering can be self-generated. You can enhance your own sense of having value by giving to others. Our most valuable resource is our time but giving some of it to others through activities such as volunteering, coaching, and mentoring will benefit the recipients and ourselves. If you do so, you will also be a great role model for the people in your life.