Judson Haims: We are better when we feel we matter
Special to The Aspen Times
“Mattering” in life and making a difference in the world is not always a narcissistic concept. Rather, the concept of mattering can be an intimate personal struggle to define who we are as a person.
Mattering to one’s self and to others is fundamental to defining who we are and our importance in this world. When we feel that we matter, we feel that we exist; we have worth, purpose and others value and appreciate us.
Unfortunately, one of the major contributing factors to our mental health crisis is that many people don’t feel that they are important or that they matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all matter — sometimes we just need to be reminded.
As mental health affects young and old alike, wouldn’t it be great if there was something easy that could be done to address the well-being of both cohorts? There is: intergenerational relationships. When such relationships are forged, a sense of purpose, value and mattering extends benefits to both age groups.
For the young who often suffer from social-environmental causes of mental illness like social stress, anxiety, isolation and hopelessness, having someone to talk to who has already walked a similar walk and can empathize with their plight may be instrumental in helping them cope.
At a stage of life when being young can often be chaotic and leave people feeling judged, excluded and isolated, a relationship with an older person can be very grounding. Older people have a unique capacity to instill a sense of stability that everything will work out and be OK. Further, they have a wealth of life experiences to share and therefore can offer insightful advice.
Establishing intergenerational relationships may be the low hanging fruit in helping our young understand that the scrapes and hurdles they face in life provide opportunities for victories. Through perseverance, they can gain a context and perspective of the longevity and value of life.
For those who are older, intergenerational relationships may have profound benefits. As we age and experience the loss of a spouse or friend, health concerns, financial difficulties or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, finding purpose and value in the day ahead can be difficult.
In his book “Aging Well,” author and Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant wrote about studies from Johns Hopkins and other universities that found when the older adults spent time with younger generation, mental and physical heath increased.
Spending time with younger generations provides opportunities for learning about present and future trends, technologies, music (to some extent), books/movies, and even art.
I am convinced that the senior population throughout our mountain communities has a great opportunity to find value, purpose and sense of mattering by sharing their life stories, skills and education.
We have a robust and diversified population of elders that have fabulous experience sand skills to share. We have miners that know more about rocks and mineral than most teachers; we have nurses, doctors and war veterans who can share exhilarating and sometimes horrifying stories, and businesspeople who can inspire teach our youth about what it takes to create jobs, wealth, and new economies.
By sharing stories of life’s trials and tribulations, both young and old have an opportunity to learn from and help one another. Intergenerational relationships can help transform lives, inspire and create brighter futures.
Throughout the country, there are many exciting examples of intergenerational programs. If you care about people and want to help both young and old feel the joys and satisfaction that come from “mattering,” don’t sit and wait for a similar program to come to our valley. Reach out to our religious organizations, schools, businesses, myself and help establish an intergenerational collaboration.
I’d like to thank my friend, Todd Morrison at Precision Construction West, for taking the initiative to make the shirts, #urimportant.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for the elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.