Do you ever notice words coming out of your mouth before you can really think, do I mean this? Is this even helpful?
Platitudes are vague, often cutesy, sentiments—the Hallmark cards of reactions. While these may look nice on decorative paper, they don’t offer much help or compassion during conversation. Before you become a total cliché, think about what you’re about to say and consider tweaking it to be a bit more personal, empathetic, and helpful. Here are ten platitudes you’re probably guilty of blurting out and what you might consider saying instead.
Does this person really want to hang out or are they just being polite?
1. “We should hang out sometime!”
So, this is vague for several reasons. Does this person really want to hang out or are they just being polite? If the former, when do they want to hang out? It’d be better to replace this platitude with something concrete like, “We should get brunch next Sunday if you’re free. Been dying to try Little Pine. Are you free at noon?”
2. “Let me know if you need anything.”
If someone close to you is struggling or grieving, this is a go-to platitude. But how likely are we to follow up on this vague sentiment? Probably not likely. A better alternative would be, “Can I bring you dinner this Thursday?”
3. “Everything happens for a reason.”
When something unexpected or difficult happens, we may try to nurse the pain with this not-so-comforting phrase that can minimize the seriousness of a situation. Sometimes, things can just be disappointing or upsetting without teaching a larger lesson. Next time, allow your friend to wallow a bit and express your condolences with an “I’m sorry this happened to you,” followed by, when applicable, a realistic outcome based on the situation. An example could be, “I know you wanted this to happen ASAP, but now you have time to _____.” Or even just, “I’m really sorry this happened to you. I’m here for you.”
4. “Money can’t buy happiness.”
We often utter this one when funds are low. While greediness and ungratefulness are not ideal traits, money is a resource like any other and can make a difference during difficult times. Instead of forcing gratitude in the midst of a stressful situation, get resourceful with ways to connect without high prices. “Let’s happy hour at my place this weekend, I’ll get the wine.”
5. “Better late than never.”
This is true sometimes, but often punctuality is real. What this silly platitude that even Drake has used may mean that it can be better to have tried at all than not. “I’m excited you did that!” or “proud of you for making that happen,” is a lovely way to congratulate a friend for achieving a goal.
6. “Nice guys finish last.”
This one is just plain ridiculous. Are we really advocating against being nice? In this economy? Psh. This one can be tricky to combat without replacing one platitude for another. When taking the high road doesn’t serve someone the way we might prefer, remind them they did the right thing, “that sucks but I’m proud you didn’t compromise your morals.” It seems corny, but sometimes we need reassurance that doing the right thing is worth it, especially when we don’t often feel rewarded for such efforts.
7. “There’s more fish in the sea.”
Yes, there are billions of people on earth, but sometimes we may not wish to focus on more than one at a time. Your friend already knows there are plenty of other people. If a breakup is fresh, reminding them that other dateable humans exist is not going to be helpful, and neither is saying they’re “better off without” that person in attempts to ease the pain. Instead, offer a tangible suggestion to shift the focus from the breakup or situation, “let’s do a friends-only thing this weekend and take ourselves on a date or have a movie night.”
8. “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
Instead of shaming someone for not being able to handle intensity, try to create a productive way for them to either avoid an unhealthy situation or better communicate why it isn’t working for them. “If the intensity is getting in the way of your mental health, that’s worth considering,” works, and even further “I support you standing up for yourself and speaking up about how you feel.” Enduring more than we can handle to make a point just isn’t worth it.
9. “This too shall pass.”
Some feelings stay with you forever, even if they merge into slightly new forms. Not everything comes and goes (and that’s okay). Express genuine compassion when someone is struggling (“I’m sorry you’re in pain”) and, if appropriate, offer a relevant personal experience. Something like, “I remember when I felt like I’d never ever get over ____, and I still think about it, but in a nostalgic, happier way now” can show a real example of progress and help us feel less alone during times of suffering.
10. “Be positive and it will happen.”
The power of positivity is meaningful, but we likely also need to set a plan in motion. “What are your hopes for next steps? And what hurdles do you anticipate clearing?” can be ways to encourage someone to get started. As tough as it can be to acknowledge, everyone is coming at challenges from a different privilege and perspective, so suggesting mere positivity can be not only unhelpful but detrimental.
Artwork by KYLE BECK