Rarely do I ever feel folks want, or are prepared for, the truth when they ask the question “How are you?”
In person (but especially online) I have always been taught to say say “I’m fine, thank you! And you?” It’s a great answer when you are really fine but I think that creates a hollow exchange overall. No one ever expects, wants to hear, or has time for you to offer up and honest answer here in the U.S. “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” is as deflective as it is soul crushing.
“Almost every day I am asked, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” I’m expected to respond, “Good” or “Fine,” and ask the other person how they are, to which they will also respond, “Good.”
To this day, this style of greeting strikes me as an abuse of a question with which people show care and concern to one another in my culture. When somebody asks, “How are you?” in Hungary, I assume that person is truly interested in my well-being and wants to listen to what I have to share.
In the U.S., this expression means, “Hi,” and does not imply that the person is the least bit interested in my personal life.“
Now I’m not saying we should all break down and go over every sordid detail of our lives when asked this question – but maybe be honest and respond with a “well, I’ve been terribly depressed lately.” or (fill in the blank) “____________.”
Be warned that by answering that question honestly you can invite those hearing your answer to do the following:
- offer unwanted advice
- ask intrusive questions that you may not be ready to answer
- pass judgement
- gossip about what you told them
In the times I’ve answered that question honestly I have often been met with great kindness and compassion. It fostered a deeper exchange between two people. But, I have also been smothered by thought-terminating clichés and greeted with a stark look of disbelief that I would actually believe they really wanted to know how I have been.
Just to be clear . . . If I ask you “how are you?” or “how have you been?” – it’s because I really want to know.