Two words that can really  change our lives are: “You matter.” Cheryl Rice, author of Where Have I Been All My Life?, writing in DailyGood narrates her experience of you matter journey. She acknowledges that it has taken her 52 years to accept that she really matters. She elaborates: “I didn’t realise this from posting countless selfies with just the right filter on Instagram, or from a record number of “likes” on Facebook. It didn’t even come from writing a book about love and wholeness. It came when I inspired over 14,000 people to tell half-a-million other people that they matter by giving out cards that said so. And it came when I travelled this you matter journey right along with them.”

Two years ago when a colleague gave her a business-sized card with only the words, You Matter. She cannot forget the feeling of warmth that radiated through her. Chris Peterson, one of the forefathers of positive psychology said that the entire practice boils down to three words: “Other people matter.” In order to spread this message You Matter Marathon was born.

Its purpose was to create positive connections between individuals by sharing You Matter cards. Not knowing if other people would want to join her in this card-sharing opportunity, she began what is known in positive psychology as a BHAG – A Big Hairy Audacious Goal – of collectively sharing 10,000 You Matter cards in November, 2016.

Almost every time she give out a You Matter card the person immediately turns the card over to see what the catch is. When they realise that there is no catch, they lower their shoulders and breathe in the message: You Matter. Not because of what you do, who you know, how big your bank account or your to-do list is, but just because you exist. A simple message with a profound impact.

Clearly, the message had touched people. She was more convinced: telling others they matter… matters. Not just for the one holding the card, but also for the one who has just given it away.

When people looked someone else in the eyes and handed them this card, both the giver and receiver were transformed. Many fought back tears, many reacted in disbelief, all expressed profound gratitude. When I say YOU matter, then I too matter.

But giving out cards was just the first step toward a transformational way of seeing the other. In many ways, the You Matter cards were like training wheels on a bike. Afterwards people  didn’t need to rely on the cards to let people know they mattered. They could tell them through eye contact, they could use their own words of acknowledgment and gratitude. And each time they did, they reinforced their own significance in the world.

Social scientists have taught us we are social animals, hard wired to connect. Yet we are living in a time where many people feel increasingly disconnected. Researchers have determined that this disconnection, this loneliness, is toxic for our health.  We must find ways to bridge our divides. Common courtesy  or simple acts of compassion could be starting points.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology professor “positivity resonance,”  the idea that when two people share a positive emotion, it spreads across their two brains and bodies at the same time. In these moments of sharing, she said, “There is one state and one emotion going on — maybe even a miniature version of a mind meld.” 

We normally take it for granted that by seeking validation that we receive it. Actually, the opposite is true: We receive validation when we validate others. When we really acknowledge that the other people matter, then conversely it affirms our own significance and importance.

(The writer is professor of science, religion and philosophy and author of Gratefully and Gracefully)

Kuruvilla Pandikattu