On Meaning in Life: Part 3, Mattering

Beyond coherence and purpose, the final thread of meaning in life is mattering and significance.

If you've read Hunting Magic Eels you'll know mattering plays a featured role in the book. Mattering is a conviction of existential significance, that your life "counts" in the vast scheme of the universe and that your life has and will "make a difference." 

Some psychologists describe mattering as unconditional and stable self-esteem in contrast to contingent and unstable self-esteem. Contingent self-esteem is unstable because it is performative, you matter IF you meet some standard of success or comparison. Obviously, since we don't always win the prize, this makes self-esteem a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs.

In Hunting Magic Eels I make the observation that one of the reasons our mental health is so precarious in this modern, secular age is that we've convinced ourselves that the foundation of mental health is a positive self-esteem. We can see now how this bit of therapeutic advice has been a disaster. How can you build mental health upon such an unstable foundation? 

What mental health requires is a more stable, sturdy foundation. Mattering. Unconditional self-esteem. The steady conviction that you matter, no matter what.

And yet, this raises the question: Where does this conviction come from? In the midst of your failure and shame, from where does assurance come that you still matter? 

We'll turn to those questions in the next two posts.

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