As youths’ purpose in life develops during adolescence and early adulthood, many aspects of that purpose may shift: how strongly they feel they have a purpose, what their purpose focuses on, how strongly and clearly they make plans and act in pursuit of that purpose, and how much they aim to affect others’ well-being (Malin, Reilly, Quinn, & Moran, 2014; McKnight & Kashdan, 2009). In addition, purpose develops in context. Social relationships provide support or constraints to purpose development in several ways (Moran, Bundick, Malin, & Reilly, 2012).
One underexplored social influence on youth purpose is perceived mattering, or individuals’ sense that they are considered by, important to, and needed by others (Elliott, Kao, & Grant, 2004; Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981). It would be expected that individuals would feel they matter to others if they received text messages on their birthday or were invited to a friend’s wedding. Conversely, they may feel they matter less to others if nobody attended their graduation, or if they were absent from school and nobody noticed.
Exploratory linear regression analyses of survey responses from American college students examined the separate relationships between mattering (Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981) and different aspects of purpose: general sense of purpose (Steger et al., 2006), types of purpose contents focused on benefiting oneself vs. known others vs. unknown others (Roberts & Robins, 2000), and strength of involvement in one’s espoused specific purpose (Moran & Mariano, 2013).
Controlling for age, on average, students reported feeling like they mattered “somewhat” to others; and their plans, commitment, and engagement in their purpose, as well as the beyond-the-self impact of their purpose, were “moderate.” But they reported feeling “a lot” of confidence that they could achieve their specific purpose.
On average, students who more strongly perceived they matter to others also reported higher intention, engagement, and self-efficacy to pursue their specific purpose, as well as a stronger general sense of purpose. To a lesser degree, mattering to others also was associated with an intention for one’s purpose to have a beyond-the-self impact.
In particular, perceived mattering to others was associated with purposes that help people the student knows and is close to. This finding may signify that mattering to others and purpose are reciprocal: students contribute to those whom they believe consider them important, pay attention to them, depend on them, and would miss them.
Although results were statistically significant, they were modest. Nevertheless, this study provides a first glance at a relationship that needs further exploration: albeit a small effect, mattering to others may be a tipping point for youth in the critical period of youth purpose development.
By Cori A. Palermo, Clark University, USA
Acknowledgement: Thank you to Alyssa Faro for sharing her knowledge of the “mattering to others” construct and its measures.
Elliott, G. C., Kao, S., & Grant, A. (2004). Mattering: Empirical validation of a social-psychological concept. Self and Identity, 3(4), 339-354. doi:10.1080/13576500444000119
Malin, H., Reilly, T. S., Quinn, B., & Moran, S. (2014). Adolescent purpose development: Exploring empathy, discovering roles, shifting priorities, and creating pathways. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24(1), 186-199.
McKnight, P. E., & Kashdan, T. B. (2009). Purpose in life as a system that creates and sustains health and well-being: An integrative, testable theory. Review of General Psychology, 13(3), 242-251.
Moran, S., Bundick, M. J., Malin, H., & Reilly, T. S. (2012). How supportive of their specific purposes do youth believe their family and friends are? Journal of Adolescent Research, 28(3), 348-377. doi:10.1177/0743558412457816
Moran, S., & Mariano, J. M. (2013). Purpose characteristics questionnaire. Unpublished measure. Clark University and University of South Florida.
Palermo, C. A., & Moran, S. (2016, March). Does mattering to others support purpose development in young people? Symposium presented at the annual meeting of the World Educational Research Association, Washington, DC.
Roberts, B. W., & Robins, R. W. (2000). Broad dispositions, broad aspirations: The intersection of personality traits and major life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(10), 1284-1296. doi:10.1177/0146167200262009
Rosenberg, M., & McCullough, B. C. (1981). Mattering: Inferred significance and mental health among adolescents. Research in Community and Mental Health, 2, 163-182.
Steger, M. F., Frazier, P., Oishi, S., & Kaler, M. (2006). The Meaning in Life Questionnaire: Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(1), 80-93. doi:10.1037/0022-022.214.171.124