Mattering in the Later Years: Older Adults' Experiences of Mattering to Others, Purpose in Life, Depression, and Wellness

By Dixon, Andrea L. | Adultspan Journal, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview
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Mattering in the Later Years: Older Adults' Experiences of Mattering to Others, Purpose in Life, Depression, and Wellness


Dixon, Andrea L., Adultspan Journal


The relationships among mattering, purpose in life, depression, and wellness among older adults were explored. Mattering, purpose in life, and depression accounted for 78% of the wellness variance. Older adults perceived that they mattered most to their children and friends. The importance of mattering when counseling older adults is discussed.

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Can any of us possibly imagine moving through life without ever being noticed by or feeling special to anyone else? William James (1890) believed that one of the worst retributions in this world would be to move through life being unnoticed by others. T. S. Eliot (1948) also purported that being important to others, and making a difference in others' lives, was actually one of the greatest purposes in life. Perceiving that we are noticed by and are important to others is known as the phenomenological experience of mattering to others (Rosenberg, 1985; Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981). Mattering to others is recognized as the fundamental need that all individuals have to feel significant and important to other people in their lives (Dixon Rayle, 2006b; Elliott, Kao, & Grant, 2004; Rosenberg, 1985). Furthermore, mattering is considered to be a global construct of significance to others through which individuals perceive their relevance in relation to specific others such as people in general, family members, friends, or to society at large (Dixon Rayle, 2005a; Mak & Marshal, 2004; Marshall, 2001; Rosenberg, 1985; Schieman & Taylor, 2001).

Traditionally, mattering to other people has been measured either as a general sense of mattering to organizations and large entities (Fromm, 1941) or as an interpersonal sense of mattering to specific others (Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981). Fromm and Rosenberg and McCullough were the first researchers to differentiate these two specific forms of mattering through which persons can evaluate their significance. Societal, or general, mattering involves individuals' perceptions that they matter to others; however, this form of mattering focuses on the importance of individuals' perceptions of making a difference in larger organizations, such as their country, work companies, or home communities (Fromm, 1941). Interpersonal mattering involves mattering to specific individuals and is determined by individuals' perceptions of how much they matter to significant others in their lives (Marcus, 1991; Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981). Further conceptualized, interpersonal mattering encompasses five components: individuals' perceptions that significant others (a) view them as important and significant, (b) show interest in them, (c) pay attention to them, (d) depend on them, and (e) are concerned with their future (Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981).

Although first conceptualized in the 1980s as a component of individuals' self-concepts (Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981), mattering was understudied during the 1990s (i.e., mattering was introduced in the 1980s but was not studied until the late 1990s). Current research regarding perceptions of interpersonal mattering to others has shown that mattering is related to higher self-esteem and social support, lower depression and academic stress, and greater psychosocial well-being and wellness (Dixon Rayle, 2005a; Dixon Rayle & Chung, 2007; Dixon Rayle & Myers, 2004; Marshall, 2001; Taylor & Turner, 2001). Only since 2001 has mattering to others reemerged as an important psychosocial construct; it has been studied with younger adolescents and older adolescents, college students, adults, medical residents, military cadets, and school counselors (Dixon Rayle, 2005a, 2006a; Dixon Rayle & Chung, 2007; Dixon Rayle, Scheidegger, & McWhirter, in press; Elliott et al., 2004; Mak & Marshal, 2004; Marshall, 2001; Myers & Bechtal, 2004; Powers, Myers, Tingle, & Powers, 2004; Schieman & Taylor, 2001; Taylor & Turner, 2001).

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