People know pity. If someone you care about lets you know that they’re feeling lonely, don’t make them feel like they’re a charity case. The last thing they need is to feel pitied.
Instead, do something that feels natural. Invite them to join you on the same outings that you’d normally go on, and be sure to invite them regularly. Don’t make grandiose, sweeping invitations, and especially don’t overwhelm them with social calls—feeling like someone is spending time with them out of pity will only amplify their loneliness.
Remember, loneliness often stems from a low sense of self-esteem, so let them know that they’re valuable without making them feel pitied. Lonely people are much more likely to see interactions as negative, so any hint of patronizing behavior could be very hurtful. Remind them, through your actions, that you sincerely want their presence, and that they make you happy. Be real. They’ll appreciate it.
Being a good listener involves more than just hearing—it takes work, and if you do it right, it could make that lonely person feel incredibly valued.
When they’re speaking, do your best not to interrupt them—wait your turn to speak. Don’t let your mind drift to what you want to say next, either. Remain in the moment while listening, and focus on what the other person is saying. It’s harder than it sounds, but try it!
Show your interest in what they’re saying through open and positive body language, such as being sure to face them as they speak, and maintaining comfortable eye contact. Nod when appropriate—don’t be a stone! Let them know that their words are affecting you, and that you’re sincerely interested. Otherwise, they may begin to feel like a burden on you.
Being an active listener gives you the power to make people feel important. Use it well.
Do What They Love
If someone is socially isolated, they’re probably not engaging in the social activities that make them happy. Remember those active listening skills? Well, it’s time to use them!
Find out what they like, and what their passions are, if you don’t already know. Do they enjoy tennis? Do they love science fiction books? Going to 1920’s themed dinner parties?
Take them! Connect them with the things that they love, especially if you can do it unexpectedly—this is sure to bring a smile to their face.
Why? Because it means they exist. Someone has thought of them—not only that, but someone cares enough to get to know them, and to use that knowledge to their benefit.
So make use of those ears! Nothing says “I care about you,” more than someone knowing about that weird little niche that you absolutely love.
And speaking of getting to know people, let’s move on to one of the best ways to cheer a lonely fellow up!
Get to Know Them
Taking the time to get to know someone is one of the kindest things you can do for them. It helps a lonely person to feel alive, loved, and cared for.
So ask questions! Find out what they like and dislike, what they do for fun, and what they avoid at all costs. Let them talk about themselves, and, again, use those active listening skills.
Relate to them, where you can, but be sure not to take the spotlight from them—let them take the stage. Ask for their opinions, and even their advice on matters relating to your own life.
Don’t stop there. When the time comes, open up to them, yourself, too. Most people will only make themselves as socially vulnerable as the other person does, and the same holds true here. If you want that lonely person to come out of their shell and engage you, show them who you are.
A lonely person needs strong, optimistic friends. Negativity, sadness, and loneliness can easily spread—think of them almost like social diseases. Make sure that you’re a positive influence. This can be a lot of work, especially if you’re not naturally cheerful, but it can make a world of difference.
Likewise, happiness and energy can be infectious, as well. Inspire them! Talk about things that excite you, and things that you know excite them. If the conversation begins to turn negative, turn it around.
For example, if your lonely loved one went through a recent breakup, you can remind them that they’re still a valuable, whole person, even by themselves. Don’t let your friend descend into spirals of negativity. When that negativity comes up, do your best to naturally replace negative thoughts with happier ones, or at least affirming ones.
Sometimes, people just need to be reminded that it’s okay to be happy.
Play With Animals
There are few things more comforting than a pet. Numerous studies show that animals make us happier, and leave us feeling more fulfilled and relaxed. They can be wonderful social ice breakers, and their sincere, unfiltered affection can allay feelings of loneliness like nothing else.
If your friend or loved one is lonely, and they aren’t afraid of or allergic to animals, introduce them to a furry friend! If you have no pet of your own, take them horseback riding, or to the local shelter, where the two of you can give some much-needed love to the local strays. Many animal shelters, in fact, are constantly looking for foster homes to take care of their animals until they can be adopted—this is a perfect option for those who aren’t quite ready to permanently adopt.
So you want to cheer that lonely friend up, invite them for a walk with your dog, or to a play date with your kitty. They may just decide that a new companion is just what they need.
Help Set Goals
Setting small goals and attaining them can be an immensely satisfying process, and are more important than ever when you’re feeling down.
If you have a lonely friend who is in need of cheer, you can help! If they’re willing, talk to them and find out what they want, and perhaps even make a list of the things that are holding them back.
Your job is to help them overcome these things. You can’t do it for them, but you can offer support and encouragement. Start with things that help them stay physically well, like eating healthily, and getting enough exercise. From there, you can help them set hobby, charitable, or educational goals—objectives that end in them helping people, learning a new skill or perfecting an old one.
This not only distracts from negative feelings, but encourages the formation of good, new habits and skills. You can’t go wrong!
Becoming Part of a Support Structure
Cheering up that lonely friend can often, as we’ve seen, be as simple as spending time with them. If you know someone who is going through a difficult time, don’t be afraid to reach out—even though they may not necessarily seem thankful at the time, it will help. Remember, though, that people need an entire support structure; you can't be everything to one person, and you shouldn't try to be. You can only provide what you can uniquely bring to their lives.
Be a part of the support structure they need, and you’ll be a part of the solution, bringing cheer and happiness to the life of another.