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In our daily lives it is inevitable that we will have to interact with individuals who we might refer to as miserable, bitter, gloomy, or just unpleasant. It is impossible to avoid all such people, but frankly I am not sure that avoidance is the most effective or humane strategy. Not everyone has a sunny and upbeat disposition, and the miserable among us deserve goodwill and human contact. We don’t necessarily know what is gnawing away at them and leading to their anguish. And they, like the rest of us, crave human contact. They may not be aware of how their behavior impacts others. And so we may be in a position to provide them with a joyous moment and a respite from their apparent anguish. Isn’t this what we are supposed to do—to help each other?
Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and parents. She was the Director of an inpatient adolescent unit at a psychiatric hospital in New York for 21 years. She is now in full-time private practice in Fairfield County CT. She is also the Adolescent Consultant at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan CT.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
Here are some ways to deal with those who may be miserable. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list, but an attempt to help you see things differently and perhaps infuse a little positivity into the lives of others.
1. Consider ignoring the negativity of unhappy others and pay them a bit of attention. In my years of experience as a clinical psychologist, a colleague, a parent, a partner, and a friend I have never ever run into a person who does not light up when they get just the right dose of attention. We all love and require healthy doses of attention. Try to make someone’s day. If you succeed, two good things could happen: You could feel good and you may give an unhappy person a moment of lightness.
2. Your smile is an incredibly powerful nonverbal tool. Catch the eye of an unhappy individual and beam radiantly. It should be a full facial smile involving the eyes and the mouth. Trust me on this one: Smiling is contagious and certainly does affect mood.
3. Use the name of the person standing or sitting across from you. There is something very personal about addressing someone by their name. You make them feel less invisible, and more important.
4. Try finding something about the person to compliment. Make it genuine. Who among us doesn’t love a compliment, even if they don’t admit it? There is always something that can be complimented if you take the time to be observant.
5. Be kind. Do not meet grumpiness with grumpiness. Kindness is, after all, the fuel that feeds the happy and the unhappy. Acts of kindness rarely go unnoticed and are rarely forgotten.
6. Try hard to be patient with someone who is gloomy. Gloominess, like every other presentation, can pass at varying rates. With a patient attitude you just might catch the individual person in a not-so-gloomy moment and what a worthwhile shift that is. It’s certainly worth waiting for.
7. Use your conversational skills and try to start a dialogue. If it doesn’t take at first, try a different topic. Most of us like when others notice us and want to engage with us. After all, who wants to feel irrelevant and unnecessary?
8. Be inclusive. If you are having a discussion with a group of people, try to include the gloomy among you. You might be surprised that they can rise the invitation and contribute something of value to the conversation.
9. You may want to agree or perhaps nod when the negative person makes a negative comment. You then have the individual’s attention, and are in a position to try to shift the topic to something neutral or more upbeat. Go ahead and try.
10. Do not make any assumptions about a distressed individual. Don’t assume that they want to remain miserable or isolated. Don’t assume that they are comfortable with their personality style. One of the worst things that we can do is to make erroneous assumptions about each other.