When Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, lost her husband, she says that no one knew how to talk to her. People felt awkward around her and didn't know what to say. One goal of her new book, Option B, was to talk about not only how we can build resilience when we face challenges, but also how we can support friends in need. Sandberg brings up 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.
1. Be 100 percent present. Put away your phone, your computer, and your work, and be there for them. Listen to them; support them without judging. Don't offer suggestions unless they ask; just be with them. They will feel 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.
2. Invite them for a (healthy) meal. New research shows that simply boosting your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can dramatically increase your happiness and well-being. Take your friend to a vegetarian restaurant to try to start beating the blues.
4. Take them to a yoga or meditation class. When we are wound up, doing yoga or meditation, studies show, helps to reduce that stress, and increase 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.
5. Ask them to point out some of the positive things that are happening to them. If they are having trouble at work, or with their partner or their children, ask them if there are other things they are grateful for. Research shows that we tend to focus on the negative, but that in reality three times more positive things happen to us than negative. Gently guiding a friend toward the things that are going right can help widen their perspective and give them solace.
6. Invite them to join you in supporting a cause or helping someone else. This may seem counterintuitive, but when we help others, we automatically feel better ourselves. By asking a struggling friend or loved one to join you, you are giving them the opportunity to engage in an act of service that research shows will improve their happiness.
7. Compliment them. People tend to be self-critical, yet research shows that self-criticism leads to anxiety and depression. It makes people feel down when they encounter failures or make mistakes. Remind them of their strengths, talents, and 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—plus we increase our longevity.
A version of this article first appeared on MindBodyGreen.