When bad things happen to people we care about, it can be hard to feel anything but helpless. But as humans who naturally want to feel like we’re in control of our circumstances, we have a very low tolerance for feeling helpless. So in response, we become aggressively helpful. We of course want to assist our loved ones, but feeling as though we’re doing something for them also makes us feel more comfortable.
A default way of doing this is to say, “let me know if you need anything.” But, as Redditor usapeaches argued in a thread way back in 2012, this isn’t the right move—because when you think about it, you’re actually burdening someone with the task of reaching out to you for help. So when someone needs your assistance and you want to offer it, be specific.
Suggest specific ways you can help
It’s important to be specific in these instances, because people who are struggling to manage everyday tasks on their own may not feel great about asking you to do them a favor. Instead, put in the effort yourself and think about what you can do to help them. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with letting someone know you’re there to help, if you really want to make yourself useful, come armed with suggestions and solutions.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some classic offers:
Watching their kids and/or pets
Walking their dog
Picking up groceries
Running other errands
Dropping off meals for them—or better yet, buying them gift cards to their favorite restaurants or food delivery services
Getting them Uber or Lyft gift cards
Lending your ear if they ever need to vent (and if that seems too general, put a time on it, like a half hour)
We know you mean well and only want to help—and so does the person you care about. Just move beyond the usual “let me know what I can do” offer and make specific suggestions.
This article was originally published in 2012 and updated on Jan. 7, 2021 by Elizabeth Yuko with more complete information and suggestions, and to add a new header image and align the content with current Lifehacker style.