The meaning of life in one word?

The meaning of life in one word?

Well, sort of …

• Matter
• It matters
• What matters
• Mattering – you matter

So, matter, matters, mattering … [1]

Matter: Connection requires stuff. Matter is stuff. Without stuff, nothing matters.

It matters: The fact that there’s stuff and that we emerged from that stuff (stardust) places everything in a context, an import for being.

What matters: Interactions & relationships – at every scale from the cosmic (10^n) to the local, interpersonal, and personal – set the stage for valued connections. Dependence and interdependence.

Mattering: Within more immediate connections and interactions, each of us matters. [2]


[1] My working one-word answer for some time has been “connection.” But a recent article noted: “Increasingly a consensus is building that mattering stands on its own in psychological terms” – regarding mental health. Perhaps social health, a society’s health, as well.

While possibly available from several sources, this article was published as “Do You ‘Matter’ to Others? The Answer Could Predict Your Mental Health” by Scientific American on 10-6-2022.

[2] With the caution that mattering has a darkside. Life (and history) is full of examples where mattering is pathologically twisted. Preying upon “people’s need to feel valued and seen by others as important.”

4 comments on “The meaning of life in one word?

  1. Here’s an article which summarizes a study on the role of daily conversation in maintaining a sense of belonging. A sense of connection. And managing stress.

    • Science Daily > “Just one quality conversation with a friend boosts daily well-being” by University of Kansas (February 2, 2023) – These are among the results of a new study co-authored by University of Kansas professor of Communication Studies and friendship expert Jeffrey Hall, director of KU’s Relationships and Technology Lab.

    Conversing with a friend just once during the day to catch up, joke around or tell them you’re thinking of them can increase your happiness and lower your stress level by day’s end.

    [Hall said that] it didn’t matter which of these quality conversations [listed in the article] someone had. The very act of intentionally reaching out to a friend in one of these ways was what mattered most.

    … once is enough, but more is better. Participants who chose to have more quality conversations had better days.

    “If at least one of their quality conversations was face-to-face, that mattered,” Hall said.


  2. Connections matter. Even casual contacts.

    • The Washington Post > “How — and why — you should increase your social network as you age” by Judith Graham (April 22, 2023) – Relationships aren’t only about emotional closeness, … They’re also a source of social support, practical help, valuable information and ongoing engagement with the world around us.

    There’s no substitute for people who’ve known you a long time, who understand you deeply. … [yet] “It’s never too late to develop meaningful relationships,” said Robert Waldinger, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

    That study, now in its 85th year, has shown that people with strong connections to family, friends and their communities are “happier, physically healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected,” according to “The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness,” a new book describing its findings, co-written by Waldinger and Marc Schulz, the Harvard study’s associate director.

    Say you’ve joined a gym and you enjoy the back-and-forth chatter among people you’ve met there. “That can be nourishing and stimulating,” Waldinger said. Or, say, a woman from your neighborhood has volunteered to give you rides to the doctor. “Maybe you don’t know each other well or confide in each other, but that person is providing practical help you really need,” he [Waldinger] said.

    Even casual contacts — the person you chat with in the coffee shop or a cashier you see regularly at the supermarket — “can give us a significant hit of well-being,” Waldinger said.

    well-being connections

  3. In the news cycle, this week a United States Surgeon General advisory on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, addressed the need to cultivate more connected lives and more connected communities – resilient belonging, mattering. For everyone, for young people and older adults …

    • U.S Department of Health and Human Services > “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation 2023” (PDF) – a framework for the United States to establish a National Strategy to Advance Social Connection based on six foundational pillars:

    1. Strengthen Social Infrastructure
    2. Enact Pro-Connection Public Policies:
    3. Mobilize the Health Sector
    4. Reform Digital Environments
    5. Deepen Our Knowledge
    6. Cultivate a Culture of Connection

    The informal practices of everyday life (the norms and culture of how we engage one another) significantly influence the relationships we have in our lives. We cannot be successful in the other pillars without a culture of connection.

    • LA Times > “Americans face epidemic of loneliness” by Alexandra E. Petri (5-3-2023) – Surgeon general warns that isolation also has ‘profound’ health risks …

    Being socially disconnected can have both mental and physical consequences.

    The report describes social isolation as objectively having few social connections or interactions, while loneliness is a subjective and internal feeling resulting from a gap between the actual connections people experience versus the desired connections they yearn for.

    Research shows people are spending less time with friends and family or participating in clubs or organizations, driven in part by technology winding its way into our social interactions. Some people move away from their communities; many others focus on their careers at the expense of their personal relationships. Studies cited in the advisory showed that between 2003 and 2020, time spent with friends decreased by 20 hours per month while time spent alone increased by about 24 hours per month.

    • CNET > “Loneliness Is an ‘Epidemic,’ Surgeon General Says. Here’s What to Know” by Jessica Rendall (May 2, 2023) – Advisories are reserved for “significant public health challenges” that require immediate awareness and action, according to the surgeon general’s office.

    There’s no getting around the fact that we are social beings at our core. If we’re removed from a sense of community or do not have a feeling of belonging, it’s a threat to public health and can cause myriad health effects for the individual, as outlined in a new advisory from the Office of the US Surgeon General.

    There are lots of factors that may contribute to a person being isolated from others or feeling persistent loneliness – some of them outlined in the advisory include shrinking social networks, increased social media use and people feeling polarized from each other due to differing ideologies.

    Hands of well-being

  4. There’s no “loneliness gene,” eh.

    Thinking about America’s societal myths and “cage of norms” … erosion of deep community … escaping the past … “what connects and what alienates” … being tethered for weathering the times …

    This article cites depictions by America’s early art movements and by Hollywood films (like John Ford’s Westerns): Fundamental American tall tales portray a nation built on notions of rugged individualism and heroic loners.

    Societal strains of individual-over-community sentiment [1] can be as deadly as biological epidemics.

    Will our plans for space exploration and off-world colonization just be other settings – more vast landscapes – for such sentiment?

    • AP News > “How the American Dream convinces people loneliness is normal” by Ted Anthony (May 16, 2023) – In the age before democracy, for better and for worse, “People weren’t lonely. They were tied up in a web of connections …” [Colin Woodard, director of the Nationhood Lab at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.]

    In reality, loneliness in America can be deadly. This month, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared it an American epidemic, …

    Do the contours of American society — that emphasis on individualism, that spreading out with impunity over a vast, sometimes outsized landscape — encourage isolation and alienation?

    [Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in the mid-1800s:] “They [Americans] acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands, … [making] every man forget his ancestors, …”

    … many frontier myths skip over how important community has been in the settling and growth of the nation. Some of the biggest stories of cooperation … sometimes get lost in the fervor for character-driven stories of individualism. … to the point where advocacy about community thinking is sometimes met with accusations of socialism.

    Solitude and isolation do not automatically equal loneliness. But they all live in the same part of town.


    [1] The importance of place and community is discussed in Rana Foroohar’s 2022 book Homecoming – The Path to Prosperity in a Post-Global World. For example, the difference between people as “somewheres” or “anywheres.”

    See also these books re social change in America:

    Putnam, Robert D.. Bowling Alone – The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Simon & Schuster (2000). Kindle Edition.

    Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books (2011). Kindle Edition.

    Alone in the stars

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