The Lost Art Of Cheering Someone Up

I was reflecting back on a time that wasn’t so good – way back in my junior year of college. There was a family emergency and I wasn’t home, and it felt kind of isolating and just not good. I was telling a friend about some of the stuff that was going on and they literally said, “Well if it makes you feel any better, my grandpa was just diagnosed with cancer.”

If you’re wondering whether that succeeded in helping me lift my chin, wonder no more.

Are you kidding me?!?

Both online and offline, it seems like we’ve kind of lost the art of how to cheer someone up. I’ve noticed that people fall into a few different patterns when in these scenarios. See if you recognize them.

The Contest Approach: There is nothing you can tell this person that they haven’t already experienced times 1,000. If you had to take the bar exam, they were in the Spanish Inquisition. If you were in a car accident, they were involved in the worst accident in the state’s history. If you aren’t feeling well, they have to go in for an appendectomy. Again. Now I suppose you could argue that this comparative approach could be an attempt to put things into a better perspective for you. Being an empathetic person, I always find myself rather torn on these occasions. I want to feel bad for this person, but after the fiftieth time of them one-upping me on how life is jerky, it’s hard to muster up many tears, ya know?

The Random Topic Change Approach: This one gets really weird sometimes. You are sitting there telling someone about a junky thing that happened. They seem to be listening, they are saying, “Oh, oh wow, mmhmm,” and then suddenly they ask, “Do you like Swiss cheese?” Now again, I’m sure the intent here is good. “I will distract you from your woes.” But it can seem really strange and unsympathetic at times!

The “I’m not listening” Approach: A friend of mine once told me about a study that was conducted at a university. A student asked people walking by how they were doing. The people would say, “Oh, I’m fine, how are you?” The student conducting the survey would respond with, “Well, I was recently diagnosed with cancer.” A large percentage of people either simply kept on walking or said, “Great, great.” It’s harder to do this in the online world in some ways because the words ARE right in front of you, but are you really taking them in? Aye, that’s the key question, right?

The fact is that we all need to do a better job of listening to each other. I remember once asking a friend who had a bad cold how they were. They said, “Oh, I’m fine.” Then they stopped, turned around, and said, “Oh, right. It’s you. You actually truly care how I am. Well, I feel…” and then I was sorry I asked! :) But seriously, do you ever just reach out to people and say, “Hey, how are ya?” We all talk about how we can present these facades in the online world, but what if you ask how someone is and they say, “Eh, had better days.” Do you stop to cheer them up or do you do what those folks in the university study did? “Fine, great, have a godo day!”

The really odd thing is that cheering someone up can sometimes be the easiest thing in the world, right? How many times have you been feeling just kind of meh, and someone brought you a dumb thing like a funny little drawing and it cheered you right up? We are all so busy working our butts off, stressing out, freaking out, that when someone indicates they are thinking of us in a nice and friendly way, it makes us stop and say, “Hey, that was nice!” It’s pretty easy to let someone know you’re thinking about them, especially in the online world. Here are some prompts, just in case you’re rusty.

“Hi! I haven’t seen you in ages! How are you?”

“I’ve been wondering how you were doing!”

“I saw this and thought of you…”

See, super easy. It may not be stuff that will help your Klout score, but it could make someone’s day.

Don’t you think?

Image by constantin jurcut. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/costi

12 comments
SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

Hi @margieclayman ...I always look so forward to your posts. As far as a positive personality trait, being a good listener ranks as one of the highest and most important in my opinion. I actually prefer to be a listener...people miss such amazing opportunities and lessons by being poor listeners. I agree with many of the comments here that feel there might be a certain discomfort in people when it comes to listening...perhaps they don't know what to do with the information or perhaps empathy doesn't come easy to them...there are probably a myriad of reasons...whatever they are, it has created within me a desire to be the listener and not the listened. My experience in the real world is that most people don't really care. I know...that sounds harsh...almost callous. And this is not my experience because I am a recluse or without friends....quite the opposite actually...my life is filled with people and friends. I have found that people LOVE to be heard and as a sad consequence, are rather poor listeners. Take this a step further and these same people have difficulty in knowing how to cheer people up. The "Contest Approach" category is the one that I see happening the most frequently....in that occasional situation where I actually DO get lured into sharing about my feelings, dang if the listener won't interject with a story that my story reminds them of to perhaps help me feel that I am not alone? I don't know for sure but it happens so often. You can almost see their "wheels turning" as you are talking to them...you have already lost them because they are going through their filing cabinet in their brain searching for a story that they can relate. Sigh. For me, I think that my often very long comments on blogs are almost a release for me. I can share my thoughts and/or "vent" and go back to my day without having seen my "listener" lose interest or roll their eyes, etc. I actually find that in some online communities I've become part of, you can comment and seemingly be not only "heard" but appreciated and valued.

Thanks for another great post @margieclayman ...so insightful.

Claudia

bdorman264
bdorman264

Well, if it's not going to help my Klout score...........Fuggedaboutit..................

True story, we had a person at work that the joke was 'whatever you do, do NOT ask her how she is doing'. Not only would she have something bad going on, she would get down into the grossest detail until you just wanted to run.

It's all about listening and I have to be careful to to drop a 'well, I had one of those too' kind of stories. Sometimes all you have to do is listen...........

susanborst
susanborst

Another fabulous post from the lovely Margie Clayman. I agree that cheering someone up may be a "lost art", but it also seems that reaching out for support may be a lost art, too. In a world where we're all suppose to be happy all the time, it's sometimes hard to admit when things aren't really going that well, even with the best of friends or family. We "put on a happy face" or "smile tho' your heart is aching" when what we desperately may really want is a shoulder to lean on, an encouraging word or, perhaps, just a hug. Yet you can't be consoled if you have not shared your true feelings. Hmmmmm...good stuff to ponder. Thanks again, Margie.

writingrenee
writingrenee

Another approach I've noticed is the "One and Done." I'll never forget how much it stung when one of my best friends once said to me, "I don't want to talk about this more than once. Ever" regarding an issue I was having at the time. I don't know if, like @saving4someday said, that friend just didn't know what to say or how to deal, but time goes on and situations change. Some problems are bigger than one conversation. Or things happen later down the road and those conversations are warranted again. We need to remember to be patient with people, too, and understand that sometimes things take a while.

Thank you for this post, Margie :)

Sara F. Hawkins
Sara F. Hawkins

Cheering people up surely is a dying art, especially as we spend less time talking with our voice and more typing with our fingers. Often I find people just don't know what to say, which may come across as aloofness, callousness or rudeness. We all have something going on at one time or another. But when someone is sharing about themselves, the last thing they need to hear is that their issue pales in comparison to that of another person.

When people ask me how I'm doing, I usually just say that I've had better days and I've had worse days. It's easier than worrying about having bummed them out. And especially easier to deal with a meh reply than watching them walk away because what I've said is bigger than they ever wanted to deal with.

My grandmother used to tell me not to ask people how they're doing if you don't really want to know. She said that it's become a polite thing, but that it's rude not to give someone your attention if they actually start telling you how they are.

As someone who's been dealing with a very challenging issue, I just find it easier not to say anything than be disappointed when the person doesn't want to listen. Why get my hopes up that someone actually cares.

A dear friend of mine is dying of complication due to pancreatic cancer. Months ago we agreed that I wouldn't ever ask her how she's doing so she wouldn't have to talk about being sick. Instead, if she feels like talking about her health we have a code so I know she's willing to share.

Sometimes it's not our job to cheer people up. But it should never be our job to make them feel crappier for feeling the way they do.

gidgey
gidgey

You've written something I've been saying to myself for so long. Thanks to @dogwalkblog for bringing me here.

dogwalkblog
dogwalkblog

Sometimes other people just want you to listen. With good friends, I've gotten into the habit of asking if they want me to listen, solve or coach them. 90% of the time, they just need to talk through stuff in a safe place. They need someone to listen.

Chris_Eh_Young
Chris_Eh_Young

My blog about this is 1000x better than yours. Swiss cheese is my favourite, how about you? Great, great.

One of these days i'll leave a serious comment on something you write. But until then, how's things Margie?

KatCaverly
KatCaverly

As someone who has made a career out of spreading cheer I am really feeling this post Margie. Often I know that people just need to laugh more but even more than this, people really need to know that someone, anyone, cares. Fortunately the world is filled with people who really care, like you. Thank you Margie, for all you do!

writingrenee
writingrenee

I think you're right on the money when you say that some people just don't know what to say and so they come off as being aloof, callous, or rude. That's something I sometimes have to remind myself with different people.

Your final point is also a good one. I think, in addition to knowing HOW to cheer people up, we could all stand to take a lesson on recognizing WHEN to do that.

Very sorry to hear about your friend, but glad that you've established clear communication as to when and how to talk about it. Hoping for peace for the both of you.