Please don’t answer.
“Hi, how are you?” That’s how most conversations start. No matter if you know the person or it’s the first meeting, “How are you” is one of the nicer ways to greet someone. And the answer? “Fine, thanks. How are you?” Or something like that. And off you go with the rest of your life.
You get asked this questions by the cashier at the supermarket, by the waiter at the restaurant, by colleges, friends and family members. And all mean well. But most of them don’t want to hear anything else but “fine” or “good”. And that’s ok. Why would the waiter care about your real feelings? And why should he?
But when it comes to other people, people you are supposed to be close and honest with, why aren’t you telling them how you really feel?
You routinely answer “fine” without thinking about it. So you just respond the same way no matter who’s asking. And it’s much more comfortable not to have to think about how you feel to answers honestly. And while we are on being honest: who really wants to hear the honest answer?
Because if we meet and I ask you “How are you?” and your answer isn’t “fine” but more honest, probably more negative, I would want to follow up on this if I am a decent human being and care about anyone else but me. And if I follow up you would have to explain your feelings. You would have to tell me about your life, your thoughts and all the things that contribute to you being “not fine”.
And here you have the problem. Or better, the two problems. It’s you and me. And for the most parts, that’s ok. That’s how we’ve learned it. We learned to be polite, to be nice and worst of all, we’ve learned that we are “ok”, that we are “good” that we are “fine” when someone asks.
If I know that you expect me to be fine and I know that you don’t really want to hear that I am not fine, why should I tell you that I am actually “not fine”?
And so we go on with our lives, pretending to be fine and pretending to care about other people-why else would we ask how they are?
For the most parts, that’s ok, and nobody gets hurt. But that’s just for the people that aren’t close to you. You shouldn’t tell the waiter that your life sucks or the cashier that you have problems with your mum or the man next to you on the bus that you haven’t slept in days just because they said: “Hi, how are you?”
But you should be able to answer this question honestly if someone close to you asks. And very important too: You should ask yourself this question and answer it honestly, repeatedly. Check up on yourself and make sure you are really ok. And if not, find out why and try to help yourself.
And also find out whose answer you really want to hear. You also ask “how are you” frequently and that’s ok because that’s nice and it’s good to be nice. But try to ask more consciously. Try to figure out whose honest answer you want to hear. It’s ok that you don’t care about what’s really going on in your neighbour’s life when you ask them the question every morning because you have to walk past them on your way to the bus. But there are certainly some people you really want to hear what’s going on.
Keep in mind that we are used to ask and used to answer correctly and polite. So if you really want to know what’s going on you may have to ask once more and make clear, that you really want to hear the honest answer. And bear in mind, that most of us aren’t used to answer honestly and most of us don’t know the honest answer and the reasons for the current feeling. But that’s ok. Maybe we can figure it out together.
So: “How are you?”