We've all been in a situation where we've tried to comfort someone but we couldn't find the right words to say. But it turns out there's probably nothing right to say in the first place.
A new study says it's basically impossible to say anything meaningful when trying to comfort someone. The researchers said there are no “magic statements that, if spoken, would provide lasting comfort to the recipient.” In fact, the researchers even said you shouldn't even try to say anything because you'll likely just make “clumsy statements that do more harm than good."
The researchers asked college students to evaluate a series of supportive statements made to someone going through a tough time. They found that there was almost no agreement on what statements were viewed as positive and which were not. This means that something that may sound like a supportive statement to you may not be supportive to someone else. So there's no guideline possible on what you should say.
If there's nothing we can say, we should just not try, right? Not really. The researchers said that while there may not be any magical statements available to make someone feel better, making yourself available and present for them in their time of need does provide comfort, as long as you don't say anything stupid.
So it sounds like just giving a hug or pat on the back is enough. That's a lot easier than thinking of something insightful to say anyway.
(h/t Research Digest)