29 More Sympathetic Ways to Say ‘It Could Be Worse’

Updated

There may be some instances when the phrase “it could be worse” could be appropriate. But if you are talking to someone who has recently experienced the loss of a loved one or another life-changing tragedy, perhaps it might not be. “It could be worse” in fact may not even apply to a situation where someone has experienced their imagined “worst.” Which in that case, you should find something else to say.

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If you’re looking to find something new to say, here are some suggestions on what to say to reassure someone or to offer sympathy besides using the phrase “it could be worse.”

What Does ‘It Could Be Worse’ Mean?

“It could be worse” is meant to be a reassuring statement to someone experiencing a challenging (but not tragic) situation. It reminds the person that although what they are experiencing may be irritating or uncomfortable, things could be worse.

A humorous example of its usage can be found in a children’s book from the 1970s by James Stevenson. In the book, a boy and girl often complain about their troubles to their grandpa, who always responds, “Could be worse.” The boy and girl become irritated by this phrase because it shows that their grandpa never has anything interesting to say.

Even though saying “it could be worse” to someone going through an irritation could technically be true, there are more interesting and empathetic ways to respond to a situation. And, in some cases, saying “could be worse” would be in extremely poor taste.

We will discuss times when it would be acceptable to use the phrase and times when it would be rude to utter it. We will also give you quotes from famous authors, poets, and leaders that you might consider sharing with someone going through an irritation or minor problem.

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Is It OK to Say ‘It Could Be Worse’?

The phrase “it could be worse” doesn’t have to be stricken from your vocabulary. In fact, it can be a friendly and somewhat casual way to remind someone to keep problems in their proper perspective.

For example, if the mom of a toddler laments that her child colored all over the wall with a crayon, you can remind her that it could have been worse if the tot had used a permanent marker. 

If a friend’s flight is delayed, you could remind them that their travel could have been canceled, which would have been “worse.”

While there are appropriate times to say “it could be worse,” it is suggested that you resolve not to say it in cases where it may be truly insensitive. For someone who lost a loved one, received a bad diagnosis, or suffered another type of life-changing tragedy, that kind of saying may not offer the type of support you are trying to give.

‘It Could Be Worse’ Alternatives to Say When Someone’s Sick

We know that your husband suffering from a stuffy nose has little to complain about, but saying “it could be worse” to him does little to show that you care. Here are some kind things to say to someone who is sick, whether they have a cold or a life-altering disease.

1. “I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well.”

Are you searching for a kind thing to say to someone who is under the weather? Or perhaps your friend’s condition is more serious, and they feel the effects of chemotherapy treatment or are recovering from surgery. Regardless of the situation, saying, “I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well” is an appropriate way to show that you care.

2. “I’m glad you have a strong support system.”

You may feel it is necessary to remind your friend to look on the bright side of life. Instead of saying that things could be worse, try to point out something positive. You may also say, “I’m glad you are feeling a little better today.”

3. “I hope you feel better soon!”

You don’t need to remind your friend that things could be worse when they are sick. In fact, doing so may cause your friend to imagine all that could go wrong. Instead, a cheery, “Feel better!” may reassure your friend that recovery is possible.

4. “You’ve got this!” 

This expression reminds your friend that they have the strength and stamina to overcome what ails her. 

5. “One day at a time!”

When life gets overwhelming, it is helpful to remember that all we need to do is face one problem at a time. This is a good reminder for anyone who is sick or troubled.

6. “I’m praying for you.”

If you and your friend share a spiritual connection, bolster their strength by praying for them. This can be a more positive way to say that you care instead of telling them that things “could be worse.”

‘It Could Be Worse’ Alternatives to Say When Someone Experiences a Death or Tragic Loss

A person who recently lost a mother does not need to be told how lucky they are that their father didn’t die too. Also, a person who loses a loved one in a car accident does not need to be told how fortunate it was that no one else received any injuries. 

Saying “it could be worse” to someone who has lost someone is never OK. Here are some more appropriate phrases. 

7. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It doesn’t matter if the person who died had an extended illness or died from an accident, do not say “it could be worse” when someone dies. Instead, say something similar to “I’m sorry for your loss.”

8. “I know you must be hurting. I am so sorry.”

You don’t need to look on the bright side of everything. Sometimes it is appropriate to be sad. Don’t feel like you need to spin the situation to make it seem better than it is. Simply being there can be of help.

9. “I’m glad your family is embracing you with love during this difficult time.”

If you have to find something positive to say after someone dies, you may consider commenting about the abundance of support the person has. Of course, only say this if it is true.

10. “Please accept my condolences on the loss of your mom.”

We know this phrase sounds formal, but you may consider writing this on a card or in a condolence email to an employee. Death calls for a more formal way of speaking and acting.

11. “Can I bring you a meal tomorrow night?”

Perhaps your friend is not able or ready to talk about the death of a loved one. While you don’t want to avoid the topic by talking about the weather, you may instead offer help. Consider providing a meal or offering to help transport plants and flowers home from the funeral.

12. “I don’t know what to say.”

Sometimes it is better to admit that you don’t know what to say than to say something offensive or insensitive. Your friend may always remember what you said during this time, and it may affect your friendship. If you don’t trust yourself with words, consider just hugging your friend.

‘It Could Be Worse’ Alternatives to Say When Someone’s Going Through Another Type of Difficult Time

Life is often full of turmoil, and there’s a chance that several of your loved ones may be going through difficult times right now. While some of their “tragedies” may seem less than tragic to you, it is polite to offer your sympathy. 

Here are some phrases to use when your loved one is struggling.

13. “I’m ready to listen.”

We all want to be heard. We want people to listen to us without judgment or without offering advice. If a friend or family member is struggling, stop and listen. There’s no need to add a qualifier to what they are feeling. 

14. “This will all be a bad memory someday.”

Be careful when offering this bit of advice to a friend. The comment should never be attached to the death or a loved one or a life-changing tragedy. You may say something similar to this if a friend had a tree fall on her house, or if someone broke a bone after experiencing a fall.

15. “It will be OK.”

You may also want to be careful when sharing this statement with a friend. If he or she recently had a cancer diagnosis or went through a divorce, you don’t know that things will be OK for your friend but there may be a moment where things may feel a bit more manageable.

16. “I’m here for you.”

Some friends simply say, “I’m here for you,” and others really mean it. If you offer your support, you may consider following it up with a statement of what you are willing to do to help the situation.

17. “You’re not alone.”

If your friend recently lost a spouse or went through a divorce, they may be feeling alone. Your friend may struggle to make decisions independently and dread going home to a silent house. Remind your friend that they are not alone, as you and others are there to offer support and to provide comfort.

18. “I know you feel overwhelmed right now.”

You may feel that this phrase needs to have a follow-up statement, but sometimes you may not need to provide one. Your friend may simply need reassurance that what they are feeling is appropriate. Giving reassurance is one way to help a grieving friend

Quotes That Are Good Alternatives to ‘It Could Be Worse’

The phrase “it could be worse” sometimes encourages people to look on the bright side of things. Here are some quotes that offer the bright side of many different types of situations, such as growing old.

19. “Never complain about growing old – many people don’t have that privilege.” – Earl Warren

The next time someone complains about the aches and pains that come with aging, this might be an appropriate response.

20. “There are two ways of meeting difficulties: You alter the difficulties, or you alter yourself to meet them.” – Phyllis Bottome

This may be a true statement, but some people may not want to hear it.

21. “We win half the battle when we make up our minds to take the world as we find it, including the thorns.” – Orison S. Marden

Marden founded Success magazine.

22. “Drag your thoughts away from your troubles – by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it. It’s the healthiest thing a body can do.” – Mark Twain

Famous American author Mark Twain was born and died while Halley’s Comet could be viewed from Earth.

23. “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” – Carl Jung

Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. 

24. “Heartbreak is life educating us.” – George Bernard Shaw

Shaw was a playwright who wrote My Fair Lady.

25. “When things are bad, we take comfort in the thought that they could always be worse. And when they are, we find hope in the thought that things are so bad they have to get better.” – Malcolm Forbes

Here’s one example of how to look on the bright side of life. 

26. “When I hear somebody sigh, ‘Life is hard,’ I’m always tempted to ask, ‘Compared to what?’” – Sydney J. Harris

Harris was an American journalist.

27. “When life’s problems seem overwhelming, look around and see what other people are coping with. You may consider yourself fortunate.” – Ann Landers

Landers wrote an advice column, which was syndicated in newspapers.

28. “The human capacity to fight back will always astonish doctors and philosophers. It seems indeed, that there are no circumstances so bad and no obstacles so big that man cannot conquer them.” – Jean Tetreau

Jean Tetreau was a French author.

29. “He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity.” – Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson was a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Jonson also wrote plays and poetry. 

How Can You Respond When Someone Says ‘It Could Be Worse?’

We’ve spent a lot of time discussing ways to tell someone “it could be worse” without using this phrase. We have also discussed times when it would be appropriate to say this to someone and when you should use a more empathetic expression.

But what happens if someone tells you that things “could be worse?” Here are some ways to respond.

“You’re right.”

Maybe you are being a whiner, and you know that your troubles are petty and few. However, if someone tells you that life could be worse, you might want to meekly accept this statement and apologize for complaining so much.

“Yes, I’m grateful for many things in my life. But, I’m experiencing this difficult situation right now, and I want to share it with you.”

This is a polite and straightforward way to remind someone that you need their support and encouragement.

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“Yes, but I am still hurting.”

You may understand that things could certainly be worse. However, you might want to remind the person offering advice that you are still suffering and need comfort or guidance.

“Do you ever get annoyed with life?”

If you feel like getting into an argument, you could respond in this way. This reminds the other person that they, too, have complained about irritating situations. They may back down when reminded that they have done the same. 

“I don’t feel strong enough right now to handle this situation on my own. What do you think I should do?”

Perhaps you really want the advice of the person you are talking with. Unfortunately, some people avoid giving advice, so you might need to ask.

“That expression is one of toxic positivity. It’s an example of when we deny others the right to process painful emotions. Sometimes it causes us to generate more pain.”

Consider reading more about toxic positivity in psychology texts.

“I need your support” or “I need your help.”

Sometimes you need to clearly state what you feel so that others will understand. For example, tell your loved one that you need their support, even though things could be worse. 

“I know that things could be worse, but I’ve been feeling really down lately. Thanks for being there for me during this difficult time.”

Avoid an argument by preemptively thanking a person for their support and understanding. 

Don’t respond.

Sometimes it’s not worth the argument – smile and nod when someone says something insensitive and go on with life. 

When Have You Welcomed Advice?

Think back to a time in your life when someone offered you good advice. How did you indicate that you were seeking feedback instead of reassurance? Maybe you asked, “What will I do?” Perhaps you could look for these same clues from your friend before sharing your opinion on how to get through the tragedy. If you’re still unsure how to offer some kind words, look to some healing quotes to help get your message of help and sympathy to your loved one. 

We all need people to help us navigate through the rough waters in life. Show your friend that you can be that person by speaking kindly to them while they are suffering. 

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