The world is a sad place. Bad things are always happening. People are suffering. If you have a friend who is sad and you’re trying to be a decent person, you might feel compelled to say something encouraging to them to make them feel better. But that’s it. You’re not going to buy them anything or go out of your way to brighten their day. Surely just a few simple words of encouragement will solve all their problems.
And yet if you think about some of the stuff we say over and over and over again, you realize it’s probably just making things worse. For example…
5. “It’s All in God’s Plan”
I heard this a lot growing up. If something bad ever happens, just blame it on God. He planned for it to happen. Oh, you just got your eyebrows permanently singed off and had your toenails ripped from your feet? God totally planned that.
And sure if you’re religious that might offer some solace if the bad thing that happened to you wasn’t actually that bad. Maybe it was God’s will that you got in that fender bender and had to miss your kid’s soccer game because obviously God meddles with inconsequential life events like that.
4. “Everything Happens for a Reason”
Of course everything happens for a reason. Literally nothing in the history of history has something ever happened without reason. But here’s the thing: when we say everything happens for a reason, we’re trying to make the other person realize that things suck right now because it makes room for something better to come along in the future.
But that’s not really the case. The reason is present, not something in the future. Your girlfriend broke up with you, not because your true soul mate is waiting down the road (although that may still happen), but because you suck as a person. Russell Wilson didn’t throw an interception on the last play of Super Bowl XLIX because God had greater things in store in the coming years. He made a bad read because he’s an overrated quarterback who’s success came from a great offensive line, an all-pro running back, and an insanely good defense.
And really, even if there was a future reason for why things are so bad, telling someone that still doesn’t help because you’ve now given them a reason to look ahead and constantly wait for things to get better; to constantly look for a sign that this is the reason things were so bad instead of enjoying the present moment.
3. “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?”
Not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but bad things happen to everyone. However, good people live their lives attempting to avoid having bad things happen to them so that when it happens, it seems so much worse. The dickhead who drinks and drives, cheats on his wife, and steals from work isn’t as devastated when he catches cancer because to him it’s just a part of life.
But to the person who volunteers at the homeless shelter and bakes pies for everyone in the neighborhood for Columbus Day (why???), getting cancer is enormously tragic. We can’t understand how someone who has built up so much good will could endure such a tragedy because obviously karma is a real thing and totally applies to this situation.
2. “When One Door Closes, Another One Opens.”
Aw, you just got fired at your job? Don’t be sad, just turn around because a new job opportunity just opened up that’s perfect for you! If only it were that easy. But the fact of the matter is that life isn’t just a metaphor for a room of random doors that we have to pick like we’re on The Dating Game.
Do you know why you got a new, slightly better job after you got fired from your old one? You filled out an application. You didn’t magically and metaphorically walk through a mystical open door. Alternatively, do you know why you didn’t get that promotion? Because you’re not as good as people say you are. They’re just being nice. Another door isn’t going to open up later down the road. You missed your shot because you lack the basic skills required to be a normal person.
1. “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.”
Nope. There’s no sound argument you can make for this. You know what happens to people who have cancer? The chemo makes them really weak. You know what happens to people who get their spines severed and become paralyzed? I don’t know actually. But I can tell you that they won’t become Mr. Universe.
A lot of times when you go through something devastating, it can actually make you weaker, or even worse, numb to things that happen in the future. Being numb to life does not equal strength. Being numb just means that your nerve endings have been devastated so much that they’re not even functioning anymore. So in theory you could have your hand on a hot stove but you wouldn’t know it unless you have that single moment of clarity where you look down and realize your skin is melting off.
The moral of the story is that bad things happen, and making empty statements to someone in a weak attempt to make them feel better isn’t actually helping, regardless of what your therapist tells you. Instead, buy them a pizza or something. Food makes everything better.