Matter versus Important

Originally published April 30, 2020.

A lot of people are asked what would make them happy. Two of the most common answers are "I want to do what's important to me" and "I want to do what matters to me." These two phrases are used interchangably, but drawing a distinction - even if arbitrary - reveals a lot.

The difference between what matters and what's important is that the former is by choice and the latter by circumstance. What matters to you is the stuff you care about. A parent cares about their children. A dog lover volunteers in a dog shelter.

What's important is what the world forces you to think about. Your English essay due tomorrow is important not because you care about the essay but because you care about the consequences.

I think the reason happy people get what matters and what's important conflated is because what matters to them also happens to be important. Perhaps happy isn't the right word - satisfied describes this better. Because when people see themselves improving on what matters to them, satisfaction is what they'll recieve.