sad friend

Reader J. B. writes:

My best friend has been pretty blue for a while. What can I do to cheer her up?

Dear J.B.:

It’s very thoughtful of you to want to cheer your friend up, and I’m going to give you a few ideas, but first I want to address something about sadness that I’ve been trying to learn myself.


Go on cry, it can be a cruel world. Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being sad is an important part of life and provides us with a massive learning experience. Particularly if someone is going through a period of grief, the sadness is completely necessary, so don’t jump too quickly to the cheering up sessions. Our culture has made us extremely averse to discomfort, and being sad, especially for longer than ten minutes at a time, is really uncomfortable. But we need to be sad sometimes in order to grow. We need to experience some discomfort, or we turn into mushy blobs, not just physically, but emotionally. It’s even in the Bible, kids: “Sorrow is greater than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3)

Depending on why your friend is sad, this can be an important period for her to do some changing, or perhaps some growing up. It may be hard to watch, and in some cases, you may not be able to be as close a friend to her as you feel you should be. I’ve read somewhere (and I can’t find it now) that human beings are wired to want to help someone who is sad, but we are adverse to hanging around someone who is perpetually blue. The fact that you want to hang around and help her is, in my opinion, a good sign.

If your friend is grieving the loss of a loved one or a big break up, she may and should be sad for a while. It takes time to heal. It’s perfectly natural for the grief to lessen and for her mood to improve. Distracting her and coming up with fun things to do can help, although she’ll probably need a good shoulder to cry on more than anything else. Let her cry. Grief has to run its course. She can’t be happy all the time. If she needs it, help her be sad. Help her sit with the sadness and come through it. This may mean watching sad movies with her, or listening to sad music. Do what it takes. It will pass.

If she’s depressed, or if there seems to be no reason for her sadness, you are going to have a much harder time being “a good friend” through the process. Depression is hard, and you’re going to have to steel yourself against some really hard times ahead. There isn’t much you can do, other than just listen, support her, and recommend she get treatment somewhere. Most people who haven’t been through it themselves don’t understand that depression isn’t something a person can just shake off. Distracting her won’t make her less depressed. In fact, sometimes people who are going through depression feel worse after having a good time. I’m not saying you have to give up completely. What I would recommend is researching depression and how it’s different from sadness. Professional help may be her only option. Be prepared to listen to some rough thoughts. Just be open about listening to her, and that will help her immensely.

If she’s talking at all about suicide or harming herself, take her seriously and act accordingly. Do not ever change the subject if someone brings up suicide. Listen to her and find her help. Trust me on this one. Talking about suicide won’t make her more suicidal. Get it out in the open and do your best to fix it, however you have to — even if it means calling the cops or an ambulance.

But if your friend is just going to be sad for a while, I think

Now, on to the fun stuff: ways to cheer your friend up.

– Make a mix CD. Put on songs she likes to dance to or sing along to, or songs that have made you happy in the past. You could make her a cathartic sad CD, too, with songs that reflect her mood right now. Maybe she just needs to be sad for a while.

– Take her out to a movie or have a movie night at your place. Spring for the popcorn. See something hilarious. Laugh as loudly as you possibly can. I’ve always found movies are the best way to distract myself from feeling sad until I’m really capable of handling it.

– Surprise her with lunch at her office or workplace.

– Call her. Spontaneously. No one calls anyone anymore.

– Set up a spa day for the two of you. Get a massage or get your toenails done. Or do it at home. It doesn’t have to be a pricey excursion to be good for her.

– Take her out for a glass of wine and take her dancing. Girls who like to dance can really live through it when they go, and the exercise will help her mood. Hit up a Zumba class or a hip hop class. Or if you’re feeling extra saucy, check out a pole dancing or strip tease class.

– Go for a walk with her in nature. Even if it’s just a local park, get her out of her house and into some fresh air.

– Set aside one night and just make her talk about what she’s feeling. Don’t talk about yourself at all. Let her get it out. Have questions ready about how she’s feeling. Bring tissues. Have a good cry. This is a tough one to do in public, but I’ve seen it happen at dinner after a good bottle of wine. You’ll both feel better afterwards. Just make sure to end the evening with something happy. Aforementioned dancing or movie are good ways to go.

I hope your friend feels better.


1 Response to “sad friend”

  1. 1 Melisa
    November 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    If you are dealing with a friend with serious depression, I would also seek out other people who has had a close friend with serious depression. It sounds cheesy but it helps to have someone to talk with about it who can understand without being judgey. This is, of course, assuming this doesn’t turn into a “depressed people are dumb for being depressed” bitch session but a supportive network where you can express how your feeling to someone who can understand. It can be really hard and it can feel like you aren’t doing anything by just listening but you are.
    Also, don’t try to force professional help on anyone. Its easy to want to diagnose once you read up on it but unless you are a professional, it’s not your place. Just listen and be supportive

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