You know the caring type: They listen when you talk. They show up when you need them. They remember your birthdays. They’re the ones who hold our families and circles of friends together and make the world a more loving place. We could use more people like them, honestly…so we asked some of our most thoughtful friends for advice on how to be more caring. Here’s what they told us.
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The ability to empathize—to connect with someone by sharing some of their emotional load—is a quality many caring people share. Empathetic people instinctively feel what others feel, and make thoughtful gestures based on that understanding.
“I start by thinking, ‘What does everybody need today?’ If I can do one gesture, it could make your day a lot better. That’s where I get my greatest joy.”
“Since I was a little kid I’ve felt all of the things. My sister would fall and I would cry. There are people you feel connected with, and I work to keep that relationship alive. If I notice someone’s going through a tough time. I’ll let them know I’m thinking about them, and they don’t have to go through this alone.”
“I use a lot of empathy in my job because I’m an editorial director for Hallmark greetings. I am constantly trying to think about how people connect and how to make people feel special…whether it’s letting someone know you care, giving them a compliment, or even just acknowledging an important date that’s coming up.”
Being ready and available to show caring in the moment often means finding and making space and time in your house and your life.
“I have a prezzie closet: I don’t wait for a buying occasion like a birthday or holiday, but purchase things for my loved ones right then and there when I see the perfect thing. Then I put it in the present closet for the next occasion—or if it’s too good, for the next time I see them.”
“We keep a stockpile of cards in the house and have random gifts in the basement that we can grab from when neighbors need uplifting or want impromptu host gifts. We also grab items from this stash to place by our guest room beside table when someone comes to town to stay.”
“I want to create better infrastructure: Do a better job of shopping for people all year long—both cards and gifts—and keeping track of them at home better. Something organized instead of a pile of shopping bags in the basement. To me it’s really powerful to make space in my home that reflects my values and my goals.”
Just about every considerate person we talked to—even the ones who rely on above-average memories—uses some sort of organizing tool to keep track of opportunities to be kind, thoughtful, and caring.
“Keeping an updated contact list is very important. When I meet someone new, I’ll ask for their address. I have updated contacts in my phone and I have all Apple products, so they get passed on to every device.”
“I’m a list maker. I have a pocket calendar, an address book, and a big purse.”
“I’m still a believer in the old fashioned address book.”
“I maintain a spreadsheet with everyone’s contact information, birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones. At the beginning of the year, I add everybody’s stuff to my calendar.”
“I’ve got my very good memory…and Facebook events/birthday reminders…and my iPhone reminders list (usually created with voice to text)…and my ever-long and ongoing text thread with my group of neighbors.”
Social media and all of the relatively new ways to communicate have their downsides and detractors. But for caring folks, they make it easier to see what’s happening in loved ones lives.
“I have eight nieces and nephews (four of them are also married, so I include their spouses) that I try to text each one a couple of times a week to stay connected. I usually know what they have going on for the week and use that to continue to stay connected. How was the big meeting? How did the appointment go? Saw your new haircut…really cute. Stuff like that.”
“It’s about recognizing what’s going on. And reaching out in the moments where it’s like ‘I don’t know what to say or do but I’m here for you.’”
“This year I have tried direct, private, personal communication. It has felt refreshingly new and honest in the age of social media where my exchanges with friends might be a simple tagging, a quick like, a comment here, an emoji there. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those quick and frequent touch points. But ever so often someone will post something and I’ll think to myself ‘I wonder what’s going on?’ Only recently have I remembered that oh, yeah—I can just ask people. So I’ve been doing that: sending private Facebook messages or texts if I have someone’s number. Never prying kind of inquiries—sometimes just comments like ‘Saw your post and it made me think of you—I hope you are doing okay.’ Sometimes questions that I hope will get past the surface level exchanges on social media: ‘Saw your post—what are you presenting at the conference?’ Or if it’s someone I know well I’ll just ask ‘are you okay?’”
Many of the caring people we interviewed have jobs that reinforce—or take advantage of—their thoughtful habits. One common habit: They make notes about important stuff.
“I try to write things down when someone tells me about an important event coming up. Then I use that to connect with them after the event has occurred.”
“I was having a casual conversation and a friend mentioned it was the anniversary of him coming out—I put that on my calendar and text him every year.”
“I add notes to each person’s contact information in my phone. Like a weirdo. For example— under my boyfriend’s contact information it says in the notes section: Lagavulin 16, WWE, sensory deprivation tank, cheesecake, red/blue/green, Star Wars (especially Boba Fett and Yoda), and size 13 shoes. Why? Because I’m a crazy person but also because I have a terrible memory.”
We’re busy. We’re all just so busy. So how do you fit caring in between meetings and activities and work and housekeeping and all your must-dos every day?
“I am super passionate about building community in my neighborhood—it’s so sad to me when people say that they don’t know their neighbors. People remark about how ‘lucky’ we are to live in a neighborhood that is as caring, connected, and fun as ours, but luck is only part of it. We’ve done a lot to invest in our neighborhood by showing small acts of caring, like making meals for people who have had a baby or have been in the hospital, taking treats door-to-door at the holidays, helping neighbors trim trees or build gardens, or inviting neighbors into our home for any and all occasions—or for no reason at all. It doesn’t have to be big to make a big impact.”
“I’m always reminding myself to be present. If someone is lost in the building I’ll take a minute to show them the way. I have a decision tree in my head: Can I stop what I’m doing to do something for someone else?”
Just as being empathetic means being vulnerable enough to feel another person’s pain, being caring can mean taking risks: Will your nice gesture land the way you hope? Will your concern be accepted? Will the target of your thoughtfulness appreciate you? Will your effort be reciprocated? Will your caring really matter?
“I have a scary-good memory and I’m a little invasive. I’m really interested in other people’s lives.”
“This probably isn’t revolutionary to anyone else, but I have to get past the barrier I have of feeling like I’m being intrusive. But usually when I do it gets me to a stronger connection.”
“I’m a reporter, and it’s all about listening and following up. A reporter doesn’t know everything—we just have to know how to find it. I’m not afraid to ask anybody anything.”
“When you know who you are and feel secure in who you are, it makes it easier to reach out.”