- September 30, 2023
John M Oldham and Lois B Morris
Do you feel that you matter to anyone? That things you do make a difference? That you have skills and talents that you’re proud of and that others appreciate? A few years ago, Gordon Flett, a Canadian psychologist, wrote a book called “The Psychology of Mattering: Understanding the Human Need to be Significant.” His work was featured in a recent NY Times “wellness” opinion piece by Gail Cornwall (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/27/well/mind/mental-health-mattering-self-esteem.html). Flett describes mattering as “a core, universal human need.” Self-esteem and social connectedness are important, but according to Flett, “you still won’t be a happy person if no one notices you when you enter a room.” He cautions against blaming yourself if that happens, recommending, instead, self-compassion. And that mattering is “malleable.” Some things we can’t change, he says, but “you can take action to increase your sense of well-being.”
These days, there are many players in the “positive psychology” world who would agree with these ideas. Such as Martin Seligman, sometimes called the father of positive psychology. His book (with co-author Christopher Peterson), “Character Strengths and Virtues” has been widely influential. Instead of focusing on what can go wrong, the book focuses on what can go right. On identifying and nourishing one’s strengths, abilities, and “positive” personality traits.
In the language of NPSP25, which personality styles would most characterize a positive psychology perspective? Which styles would reflect a comfortable sense that we matter in the world? The Self-Confident style would top the list. As described in the “Personality Style/Disorder” section of the website, they are self-assured and successful. But Adventurous types are self-reliant, persuasive, and courageous, traits that matter. And perhaps those with the Dramatic style, who are emotionally very alive, intuitive and imaginative. Features of many other styles could, as well, help us feel that we make a difference. But let’s not forget Flett’s advice that “mattering is malleable.” That if we don’t feel significant in the world, there are things we can do about it!