When Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, lost her husband – she said no one knew how to talk to her. People felt awkward around her and didn’t know what to say. One of the goals of her new book, New York Times #1 Bestseller Option B is to talk about how we can both build resilience when we face life challenges but also how we can support friends in need. Sheryl brings up such a good point. How many times do we find ourselves with a friend who is going through a breakup, a loss, unemployment or another difficult life transition and find ourselves at a loss for what to do or say? Here are some research-validated ways that you can support others in the kindest and most effective way.
• Invite them for a healthy meal. New research shows that simply boosting your intake of fresh fruits and veggies can dramatically increase your happiness and well-being. Take your friend to a vegetarian restaurant and load up on those fruits and vegetables to beat the blues.
• Take them for a walk outside Research shows that natural light and especially sunlight can boost our mood. Studies also show that taking walks and being in nature reduce anxiety and depression.
• Take them to a yoga or meditation class. Oftentimes, we are wound up and stressed. Doing yoga or meditation, studies show, helps reduce that stress and increases your feelings of calmness and well-being. As a consequence, you see things from a broader perspective and may even come up with solutions you or your friend would not have thought of otherwise.
• Ask them to point out some of the positive things that are happening to them. For example, if they are complaining about their work, their boss, their children…ask them if there are any things related to that topic that they appreciate. Research shows that we tend to focus on the negative but that in reality three times more positive things happen to us than negative, its just a question of what we choose to look at.
• Invite them to join you in supporting a cause or helping someone else. When we help others, we automatically feel better. By asking them to join you, you are giving them the opportunity to engage in an act of service that research shows will improve their happiness.
• Support them 100%. Put away your phone, your computer, your work and be there 100% for them. Listen to them, support them without judging them. Don’t even offer suggestions unless they ask for them. Just be with them. They will heard and understood and may experience some relief. Research shows that positive social relationships with people help us feel better but that many people actually feel quite lonely – by listening in this way, you can help that person feel connected and supported..
• Compliment them. People tend to be self-critical, yet research shows self-criticism leads to anxiety and depression. It makes people feel down when they encounter failures or make mistakes. Remind people of their strengths, their talents, and their positive attributes. It will help uplift them.
All of these points have a bonus: they will help uplift you too! In researching my book The Happiness Track, I found so much compelling data showing that the more we do for others, the happier, healthier and more successful we are too and we increase our longevity!
A version of this article first appeared on MindBodyGreen.