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Perspective: To belong is good. To matter is even better.


We talk a lot about belonging these days and brainstorm ways to help folks feel they belong. Whether it’s belonging in the workplace, the schoolyard, or the community, having a sense of belonging makes a significant difference in how you feel about showing up in life.

However, while belonging does give a person the feeling that they are a “qualified member” of a group, feeling that you matter to the group feels even better.

Belonging and mattering are two different things. Think about how we use the word, belonging. My possessions are my belongings, but not all of my possessions really matter to me. The scissors belong in the kitchen drawer and my plates belong in the cabinet. I belong to the team, but do my contributions really matter? You belong to your family, but do they show you that your presence matters?

Mattering is nurtured in settings in which personal well-being, relational well-being, and communal well-being are all valued equally.

Mattering is the product of two distinct processes at play: feeling valued by others and feeling that you add value to the group. It’s where accountability arises because we know our contributions to the group make a difference.

We feel that we matter when our presence is noticed, and our absence is felt. Belonging may mean that there’s a place for us or that we are “entitled” to a place, but when we matter, it means that others are grateful to have us show up in that place. Belonging is knowing that there’s a place at the table for me, but mattering is knowing that others at the table need me there to feel complete.

I’m Suzanne Degges-White and that’s my perspective.

Chair and Professor - NIU counseling and higher education