However, while this response is well-intentioned and feels like the right thing to do, it’s not necessarily going to be beneficial for the person who’s struggling.
“It can feel quite isolating or even invalidating when someone is trying that ‘Cheer up’ approach, or comparisons like, ‘It’s not so bad, look at the people who have it so much worse’,” explains Tal Schlosser, Clinical Psychologist at My Life Psychologists.
“We have the feelings we have and someone saying, ‘Don’t worry about it’ doesn’t make it go away. In fact, we can feel even worse about the fact we can’t just snap out of it.”
Part of the motivation to cheer people up is tied to how society typically views emotions. According to Dr Janine Clarke, Psychologist at Mend Psychology and The Sydney ACT Centre, there are six ‘basic’, universal emotions — sadness, anger, disgust, fear, happiness and surprise — and we’ve been conditioned to perceive happiness as the only one worth pursuing.
"Our tolerance for distressing or unpleasant emotions has been eroded such that we work hard not only to rid ourselves of them when they show up, for example by putting on a brave face, but we can feel compelled to 'fix' others," she says.
"I think it's also reasonable to say that we default to this response because we are partly motivated to reduce our own distress. It is extremely difficult to watch a loved one going through a tough time; we may notice feelings of vulnerability, weakness, failure, and helplessness."
Tal Schlosser adds that labelling or judging emotions as inherently 'good' or 'bad' is unhealthy, because each of them serves a purpose — whether we find the experience enjoyable or not. "It's healthier to acknowledge and name that feeling, and from that place let the feeling pass in its own time. All feelings ebb and flow - we don't stay ecstatic and we don't stay sad," she explains.
Watch: Meghan Ramsay discusses the effects of low self-esteem. (Post continues after video.)
Helpful ways to show support
Clarke says although attempting to control or eliminate sadness can have short-lived benefits, like distraction, it's an unwinnable battle in the long term. "Sadness is a normal, important and inevitable part of life. We don't need to like it, but we do need to be open to it when it shows up," she says.
Here are some strategies that'll allow you to show your compassion and support for a loved one without making them feel uncomfortable with their sadness.