We Need to Feel Significant / Important
Content Updated on January 16, 2008
At some level, everybody wants to feel important. It is essential to our happiness.
Why Feeling Significant is Important
The need to feel significant is programmed in us biologically.
First, feeling significant to ourselves (a.k.a. self-attachment) is necessary for us to want to survive at all. If you didn't think your life was important at all, then you probably wouldn't do much to meet your own survival needs.
Part of our ability to survive also depends on our community (a.k.a. social attachment). Humans are a social species and we must rely on each other to meet our basic needs. Sure, you could defend yourself from wild animals, learn how to protect yourself from mother nature, figure out how to build your own house, gather all the materials you need from the local wilderness, grow your own food, dig your own wells for water, make your own clothes, and invent security systems to keep others from taking your things or threatening you, but, eventually, living life this way requires more time and energy that we can give. And when we can't keep up, we die. However, if we work together, we can get these needs met more efficiently and with more certainty, which increases the likelihood that we'll survive.
The way we convince other people to work with us, to help us survive, is to prove to them that we are important to their own survival and happiness, so they will want to keep us around.
How We Achieve a Sense of Significance
Make Others Need Us
The easiest way to get other people to need us is to do things for them that they can't or don't want to do themselves. Perhaps you can grow their food or fix their car when they can't. Perhaps you can be there for them to talk to when they're lonely and don't have anybody else. Maybe you're willing to do the disgusting jobs that they don't want to do, or you can create things just for their enjoyment. It all comes down to, "What can you do for me?"
At first glance, this probably sounds much like "selling out," but we all do this. There's no getting around it. If you want to take, you've got to give. It's the nature of society.
Some people, though, take this technique to unhealthy extremes and end up in co-dependant relationships. If you find yourself slipping into co-dependency, then it may be time to meet with a mental health counselor.
Be the Best
Doing things for other people may be the easiest way to seem important to those people, but sometimes you'll face competition. Why should those people choose you to meet their needs when they can just as easily go to somebody else? The way we ensure that we are the ones who will those needs for them is by being the best in some way (e.g. most quiet and relaxing, most exciting and motivating, quickest, longest, most durable, most economical, etc.). We won't please everyone with these methods, but eventually we do find the people who most respect what we can offer, and that's the niche where we settle into.
A little competition is good for us. It pushes us to improve ourselves.
Be wary of an overly competitive nature, though, because it can make teamwork situations difficult and strips the fun out of play.
Accomplishments help us to measure and demonstrate how significant we are. The more important we believe are accomplishments are, the more important we feel. We can look at what we have done and proudly say, "I did that!" (boosting self-attachment). Likewise, if other people think our accomplishments are important, then they will be more likely to say, "Wow, they did that!" and see us as significant, even if we haven't done anything directly for them (boosting social-attachment).
To help you realize the accomplishments you've made in life, create a life resume journal. Make a list of all the things you've done that you consider an accomplishment. You may even want to list the results of that accomplishment (e.g. Action: I gave flowers to my secret crush in third grade. Result: I gave that person an ego boost and possibly helped to boost his/her self-esteem.). This list is ongoing since you will likely be adding new items to the list every day. Whenever you're feeling like you're insignificant, get out your life resume journal and start reading.
While you're at it, start building up that resume by setting goals that are important to you (big things as well as the little things), and work toward achieving them.
Force Others to Realize How Important You Are
What do you do if other people don't seem to need you no matter what you do, and you don't have a list of accomplishments? You could just wander into the woods, live like a hermit, and hope that you can take care of your own survival needs, or you could take the path that some people feel is their only choice for survival: force others to realize your significance.
One of the most efficient ways for a desperate, out-of-control person to feel important is to take control of as many people as they can. Demonstrating dominance frequently happens throughout nature and works quickly in most situations. Unfortunately, among humans, dominance is usually displayed through forcing others to deal with your power even if they don't want to (e.g. violence, vandalism, stealing, insulting, threatening, etc.).
Of course, it comes at a price. When you dominate other people, those people don't admire and love you; they're just afraid of you. Acting dominant should generally be avoided.
Wait for Worthy People to Appear
Another way to gain a sense of significance, even if the people around you don't seem to think you're important at all, is to create a legacy, so future generations can appreciate you.
A major component of our happiness is hope. If we cannot have what we need now, we can at least hope that we will get it one day. With respect to feeling significant, we can always hope that we'll end up in the history books and have our importance recognized by future members of society. After all, many notable people in history were disregarded during their lives. Van Gogh is a perfect example.
Vincent Van Gogh ultimately believed he was a failure and was financially broke when he died. It wasn't until after his death, when his family discovered his collection of paintings, that he gained fame and wealth from his creations. He felt totally insignificant throughout his life, but he wasn't insignificant at all. He was actually one of the most important figures in the world of modern art. He just didn't know it. Maybe you are the next Van Gogh and just don't realize it.
If you feel insignificant now, you can at least hope that the things you accomplish and create will be recognized years from now. At the very least, this will motivate you to accomplish and create (and that too will increase our sense of significance).
Believe in Inherent Significance
People who believe in inherent significance believe that they are significant just because they exist. Sometimes these beliefs are religious (e.g. "God loves you because God created you" or "the Divine has created you for a reason"), but they don't have to be. From a scientific perspective, you have changed the nature of the universe just by being born. Everything you do (achievements, mistakes, and mundane routines) impacts everything else. Therefore, you are significant because you are partly responsible for the way that the world is today as well as how it will be in the future.
Allow yourself to take credit for the way that you have influenced the world.
How to Help Others Feel Important
One of the most gratifying things a person can do is to help other people feel important. The easiest way to do this is to just treat others the way you would like to be treated.
- Be polite.
- Keep your word (be on time for appointments and do what you say you will do).
- Listen to them when they talk.
- Let them know how much you enjoy having them around.
- Remember major details about their lives (like their names, the names of their children and partner, and major events in their lives).
- Pay attention to the little things they do (like the way your restaurant server brings extra napkins to your table when he notices that you have kids with you).
- Ask them for their valued input or assistance.
- Compliment things they do well.
- Invite them to join you in something.
- Do something unexpected to let them know you were thinking of them.
- If you absolutely must criticize someone, do it in a nonjudgmental way.
- Apologize to them when you make a mistake that hurts them.
Helping others people feel important also helps us in our lives. When we help coworkers, employees, and customers feel important, we improve the quality of our business and profit margin. When we help children feel important, we increase their self-esteem and the future of our society. When we help our spouses feel important, we improve our marriage. Perhaps if we spent a bit more time trying to help other people feel significant, especially people who seem most troubled or alone, we'd have fewer cases of abuse and crime in the world.