Photo: ThinkstockBy Leigh Newman
Order Them the Thing They Love Without the Thing They Hate
They adore martinis but not the olive. They're mad for olives but not the pimento. They long for flowers, but not baby's breath. In all these cases, when you show up--or send over--the thing that they usually have to special order (or fix, by picking out the all-too-often-always-included unwanted additions), you're effectively making what some people might call a little dream come true. (Other people, myself included, believe that there is no such thing as a little dream. Dreams are all one size--larger than life.)
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Photo: ThinkstockOrigami Them a Heart
Yes, it's so easy as to be considered cheap, but it's nonetheless effective. Also the fact that you spent 3, 13 or 73 minutes folding and refolding such an object for them proves, even if the rest of the world blows, they still have somebody who's willing to endure paper cuts to service someone else's happiness.
Photo: ThinkstockPre-Pay for Their Ham-and-Cheese
Nobody wants to pay for lunch. This is why everybody plans to bring leftovers, but forgets to pack them and then silently yells at themselves as they hand over 6 or 7 or 8 or 10 (ow!) dollars for a sandwich that they could have made at home. On this day, however, you will have snuck into the corporate canteen, or the sandwich truck in the parking lot, and pre-paid for a ham-and-cheese, as well as shown the cashier a photo of your coworker who was dumped by his fiancée, so that when he approaches, castigating himself internally about how he can't afford lunch since neither the wedding venue nor the caterer will refund his deposit, he can enjoy the delight of the cashier saying, "That's taken care of, sir!" Variation: Slip the cashier two extra bucks and have her say, "That's taken care of, you handsome, smart, sandwich-eating devil."
Photo: ThinkstockMake Them a Coupon Book of The Things Nobody Wants to Hear.
We all have things we want to express that do not help us. Worse, while expressing them, we usually don't want help from anybody else, either. We want to scream with rage without having anybody commiserate. We want to talk about how our parents' divorce at 80 is all our fault and not have anybody dispute this with facts, figures or clearer memories. Further, we want to do all this without feeling guilty for boring and exhausting our listener (or for wasting our own time and energy because even we know that all the ranting and complaining does nothing to change the situation). So should your best friend have to declare bankruptcy on her birthday, make her a homemade coupon book that entitles her to redeem one shame-free whine fest, rage attack, long baroque episode of self-loathing as well as two or three "it's not fair" wail-a-thons to you via the phone or in person. P.S. Be sure to specify a timeframe on each coupon. P.P.S. The timeframe is 20 minutes (max).
Photo: ThinkstockBuy Them Wisdom from a Hedgehog
During some very, very dark times, there is only one phrase that can help: "Don't give up." Perhaps you have already said this to the person in your life who is underwater. I have said it to many, many people. In fact, I have advocated for the use of a magnet that says it for me. But if you really want to drive the message home to cousin Doreen who got transferred to Dubai, five thousand miles away from her girlfriend, have a hedgehog say it--in a manner of speaking. Bonus: It only costs five bucks.
Photo: Lisa Noble Photography/Getty Image
Get Them to Jean Machine
Machines can't fix the world. But they can make it more pleasant, despite the cat that ran away or the tax-audit letter that arrived. Which is why you must take your down-and-out friend directly to the Me-Ality scanner at your local mall or department store and shove them inside. In 10 seconds, the device will scan their body and spit out the name of a jean that will fit perfectly. How bad can life be once too-tight, too-baggy and too-depressing denim has been banished from you life?
Dump Affection on Their Head
Make them a big bag of confetti using a hole punch and colored construction paper. On each dot, write a quality of theirs that you admire: Generosity. Humor. Very Straight Nose. Never Stinks. Smiles at Dogs. If you need to write longer comments such as Always Shares French Fries or Can Be Trusted With Secrets, you can just cut out bigger circles (trace a quarter) and mix them in with others.
Pour confetti into a pillowcase. Show up at their house. Dump it on their head. Wait for a minute as they process what you are doing, which eventually will cycle from surprised...to annoyed...to grateful.
Photo: ThinkstockCall Them Up and Say, "I Have Nothing Important to Discuss, but I Just Wanted to Hear How You Are Doing"
Your mother could have told you this one. You might not have believed her. As with most things, it's the simple but believable gestures of support that work every time--no fireworks, jelly beans or cartwheels needed.
Leigh Newman is the Deputy Editor of Oprah.com and the author of Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-up World, One Long Journey Home.
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Photo: ThinkstockBy Leigh Newman