photo by Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

My mom was definitely old school. So when I was a young teen and lamenting about some loss or slight or “daily disaster,” she typically had a standard reply: You just need to go do something for someone else. The truth is, I actually recall times when she’d force me out of the house, locking the door behind me saying, “And don’t come back until you can tell me who you did something for!”

I lament that she isn’t here today to thank her for some of the best advice of my life.

What in the world made that such an effective remedy that I continue to use it long into adulthood?

  1. Doing something for someone else requires you to focus your attention outward…off of your own misery.
  2. It also often happens that, in fact someone else’s difficulties are worse than yours.
  3. When you show up and offer a kindness or courtesy, other people tend to like you. …which, if you’ve been feeling crumby, feels nice.
  4. Once you do something for them, they tend to be appreciative, say thanks, brag on you and all that good stuff which has the effect of “refilling your cup.”
  5. When you go back home or to your room or wherever, you have been absent, at least for a time, from whatever was bugging you and that often gives you a clearer perspective on just how bad it is (or isn’t!).

When my mom tossed me out the door, I was lucky because there were little kids next door who loved for me to read to them or play ball. Or, if I didn’t feel like that, there was an elderly widow lady down the block who was always delighted if I dropped by. She loved preparing us a cup of tea and had plenty of time to hear my laments or news. By the time I returned home, I often had a new vision of “need” or a different perspective on how my own issue wasn’t so bad after all.

The old-fashioned word was “feeling blue.” A little sad or letdown or left out or despondent. Everybody has it happen sometimes. Learning how to boost yourself out of the dumps is part of learning self-care of adulthood. How about encouraging your teen to experiment with this tool next time they’re blue?