I recently caught up on some podcasts and came across this idea from game designer and author Jane McGonigal.
During an interview on People I (Mostly) Admire, she and Steven Levitt talked more about the idea, but in the most simplistic terms, the idea is this:
When you start a conversation, ask someone how their day is going on a scale of one to ten. Then ask them what you can do to “plus-one” that score?
What I love about this is how simple it is. Yes, it might seem silly. It might even seem like you’re making light of a difficult situation, so I would consider not using these exact words, but I love the idea because it forces me to think in terms of doing one thing to help instead of trying to take on everything! Far too often, when someone we care about is struggling with mental health issues, grief, loss, stress, etc., we default to either trying to fix all of it for them or realizing that we can’t fix all of it and defaulting to doing nothing. Watching people who we thought cared about us avoid us during difficult times can be a sign that they are simply overwhelmed at the thought of trying to support us through all of our stuff.
Maybe it would be easier to simply think in terms of what thing I can do that will add a “plus-one” to their game. What assistance can I offer to help them navigate the current level of their life, whatever level that might be? People in various kinds of pain, depression, grief, etc., generally use a lot of energy just to get through the day. Maybe the thing you do to “plus-one” their day is simply to take an extra task away so they can save that energy. Send them dinner, pick up their groceries while you are there, watch their kids for a short time, sit with them when you can, or test them a meme that you know will lift their spirits.
These might seem small, but if they offer that “plus-one” jump, you’ve helped when so many won’t even bother. That help goes a long way. Just knowing someone wants to help goes a long way.