It can be hard when the people we care about are chronically unhappy or negative. We can see how their attitude is hurting their quality of life, but nothing we do seems to help. We may try a variety of approaches like offering advice (i.e., “Read this book.”), telling them they need to change, or maybe asking how we can help.
I get this question a lot from people who feel frustrated, worried, and discouraged about their loved one, so I dug into the research to find some helpful suggestions.
- According to psychologist Ronald E. Riggio at Claremont McKenna College, “When someone's feeling down, we often try to make them feel better by convincing them ‘it isn't that bad,’ or something similar. It seems, though, that this often makes things worse—instead, turn it around by simply acknowledging that they're unhappy."
- Related to this is being an empathic listener. Allow the other person to share their feelings, concerns, stresses and/or problems. By resisting the urge to offer advice or make suggestions, we make the other person feel heard and understood. It also demonstrates our genuine concern about how they feel.
- If the other person asks for ideas or advice, we can help them reframe by offering alternative ways of viewing the situation in a more positive light. What good might come from this experience? How might it make them stronger, wiser, more understanding, etc.? What are some good things they could focus on in their life?
- Here’s a tough one; practice unconditional positive regard. This approach, developed by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, focuses on accepting and supporting a loved one regardless of what the person has said or done. It requires putting aside your own judgments and opinions and valuing the other person just the way they are. This changes our interactions with the other person, and they can sense the difference in our attitude about them. Feeling accepted can give the other person more peace and confidence, which can help them shift their perspective and feelings.
- Work on improving your own happiness first. When we have a strong foundation of positive emotions, it helps us be a role model and contributes to the ripple effect of emotional contagion. Keeping our own positivity battery charged, also improves our ability not to be as influenced by the other person’s negativity.
Remember, no matter how much you care or want to help, you can’t change anyone without their permission. You can try the ideas above, and you can suggest things that might help them, but you can’t make them do them. If you nag, push, threaten, or bribe, you’ll only damage your relationship and make yourself miserable.
I liked this article by Steven Handel, founder of The Emotion Machine, and his comment, “You can only influence and encourage people to find happiness, you can’t force it onto them.”
Think of someone you care about who you wish was happier. What ideas from this tip could you try? Make a plan.
Wishing you peace and happiness,
Tina Hallis, Ph.D.
Chief Positivity Officer of The Positive Edge, a company dedicated to helping people and organizations improve the quality of people’s work lives and the quality of company cultures.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2018 The Positive Edge, All rights reserved.