After many trials and tribulations, including lost love, a broken heart and a dangerous journey, Jane Eyre arrived in a new town sick and penniless. There, as a teacher, she eventually earned the respect and admiration of the community: “I felt like I became a favorite among the neighbors. Whenever I went out, I heard cordial greetings from all directions and was welcomed with a friendly smile. Life In universal respect… it’s like “sitting in the sun, calm and sweet.” This is how the British novelist Charlotte Brontë described her protagonist’s sense of importance.
Decades later, American psychologist William James described the opposite experience: “What if no one looked back when we went in, answered when we spoke, or minded what we were doing, but what if everyone we met By ‘hacking us to death’ and acting as if we are non-existent, a rage and helpless despair soon arise within us.” He writes of being ignored and simply not worthy of attention. Pain is enough to produce pain.
Being important includes feeling valued and adding value to ourselves and others. When we say feeling valued, we mean being appreciated, respected and acknowledged. By adding value, we mean making a contribution and making a difference in the world.
The importance effect refers to the positive or negative consequences of feeling that we matter or don’t matter.Feeling valued is a personal prerequisite Health and well-being. Adding value or making a contribution is a prerequisite to achieving this goal meaningful life. However, unimportant negative effects can be devastating.Exclusion, ostracism, and rejection are not only painful; violence and depression.
Feeling important is one of the most important characteristics of being human. When this feeling is present, we thrive. When it is absent, we feel neglected and helpless. Threats to significance undermine our dignity.
There are positive and negative ways to deal with a perceived lack of value. Some of the constructive efforts included the civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community’s fight for equal rights, and the struggles of disability rights activists—efforts that ultimately led to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some negative reactions to lack of worth can lead to aggression and xenophobia.
Significant experiences promote health and happiness. It also protects against personal devaluation, relationship disconnection, work disengagement, and social structural disintegration. These four questions – the four Ds – define the crises of our time.
Low self-worth contributes to high rates of depression around the world. Too much self-worth can lead to unprecedented levels of narcissism.
Disconnection manifests as new levels of isolation, loneliness, and relationship breakdown.
Widespread unemployment costs $7 trillion worldwideaccording to a 2023 Gallup report.
Declining social capital and rising inequality lead to the disintegration of communities.
Racism, the belief that entire groups are unimportant, is deeply ingrained in the United States and other countries.
The four D’s come from “my culture”. In this culture, people follow a mantra: “I have the right to feel valued so that I can be happy.” This philosophy is self-centered and strictly focused on what is good for me.
But if “me culture” is the problem, what’s the solution? We need a “we culture” in which we all have the right and responsibility to feel valued and add value to ourselves and others, so that we can all experience health and equity. “I culture” is primarily individualistic, hedonistic, acquiescing, and reformative, whereas “we culture” is communitarian, purposeful, challenging, and transformative.
Our culture is obsessed with feeling valued and happy. This obsession with oneself, bolstered by the megaphones of selfies, personal branding and social media, is deceptive at best. The important thing is not to turn yourself into a commodity for sale. Instead, the way to matter is to pursue meaning by adding value to self and others.
Matter exists in the microcosm of relationships and work, but also in the macrocosm of social policy. Countries that promote economic fairness and equality achieve better outcomes in physical and mental health, trust, education, security, social mobility and life expectancy. People in countries with fair policies in health, education and employment report higher levels of life satisfaction. Part of the reason for these results is that people in these countries feel important.
As a society, the lesson is clear: without equity, we can achieve neither health nor value.
Isaac Prilleltensky as Owen and Barbara Mautner Chair in Community Well-Being, Research Professor of Education and Psychology, and Executive Education Doctoral Coordinator of the Community Leadership Concentration Program at the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development.
Ora Prilleltensky is a retired clinical assistant professor.