Aug. 9, 2017 11:02 am

Two words that can change a life: ‘You matter’

Positive psychology expert Cheryl Rice shares the origins of her You Matter Marathon, a project that aims to share words of encouragement with a million people this November.

The 2016 You Matter Marathon.

(Courtesy photo)

This is a guest post by You Matter Marathon founder Cheryl Rice.
Is it possible that two words can change someone’s day, someone’s life? What if those same two words could change the world? Last year I began a quest to find out.

This quest inadvertently began in a grocery store.

I was standing in the checkout line behind a woman who looked to be in her 60s. When it was her turn to pay, the cashier asked how she was doing.

The woman looked down and said, “Not so good. My husband just lost his job and my son is up to his old tricks again. The truth is I don’t know how I’m going to get through the holidays.” Then she gave the cashier food stamps.

My heart ached. I wanted to help but didn’t know how. Should I offer to pay for her groceries, ask for her husband’s resume? I did nothing — yet. And the woman left the store.

As I walked into the parking lot, I spotted the woman returning her shopping cart, and I remembered something in my purse that could help her in a different but hopefully profound way. It wasn’t a job for her husband, but maybe — just maybe — it would make her life better.

'It sounds like you’re going through a really hard time right now. I’m so sorry. I’d like to give you something.'

My heart pounded as I approached the woman.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I couldn’t help overhearing what you said to the cashier. It sounds like you’re going through a really hard time right now. I’m so sorry. I’d like to give you something.”

And I handed her a business-sized card.

When the woman read the card’s only two words, she began to cry. Through her tears, she said, “You have no idea how much this means to me.”

I was a little startled by her reply. Having never done anything like this before, I hadn’t anticipated the reaction I might receive. All I could think to respond was, “Oh my. Would it be OK to give you a hug?”

After we embraced, I walked back to my car — and began to cry too. The words on the card?

“You Matter.”

A few weeks earlier, a colleague gave me the same card. When I read the card, I felt a warm glow spread inside of me. Deeply touched, I came home and ordered my own box of You Matter cards and started sharing them.

First, I gave them to family and friends. Even if they weren’t in as dire straits as the woman at the grocery store, their faces lit up and often their eyes moistened when they read those two words.

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As I became bolder, I started giving the You Matter cards to people in my community who enhance my life — my dry cleaner and my favorite barista. While the gesture didn’t always end in an actual hug, the words were a hug in themselves. The recipients were visibly moved. And I was too.

At the time I met the woman in the grocery store, I was completing a program in applied positive psychology. I learned the science behind happiness and well-being.

Every one of us is here for a reason. We are all essential. We need, and are needed by, each other.

One of the forefathers in the field of positive psychology, Chris Peterson, said that the entire practice boils down to three words: “Other people matter.”

Well, my experience in the grocery store confirmed that telling other people they matter also matters. People crave connection but feel more isolated than ever. Every one of us is here for a reason. We are all essential. We need, and are needed by, each other.

That simple encounter in the parking lot has become the You Matter Marathon — no running required!

The goal is to create and enrich positive connections between individuals and within communities by collectively sharing You Matter cards during November. Last year, almost half a million cards were shared by people in all 50 states and in 59 countries.

This year, our goal is to share one million cards. We can’t do it without you.

There are three ways to participate:

  • As an individual or organization — Sign up and receive 30 cards for free.
  • As a donor*
  • As a corporate sponsor* — Get cards, t-shirts and public recognition

Learn more with this short video of the You Matter Marathon in action, or visit our website. Together, let’s make some magic.

*You Matter Marathon is a project of the Urban Affairs Coalition, a 501(c)3 nonrofit charitable organization.


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