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How Are You?

The first thing that people ask when they see each other is often “How are you?” or any of its variations such as “How are you doing?”, “How’s it going?”, “How’s everything?” and so forth. You will most likely respond in a positive manner such as a simple “I’m fine” or “Everything’s good” depending on the form of question that was asked. Most people do not expect you to answer anything else other than you are fine and all is good and dandy.

If you think about it, “how are you?” is a multifaceted question. What exactly are you asking when you ask the question? Do you want to know about how I am doing physically, mentally or spiritually or all of the above? Should I tell you about any worries that I have such as health, financial or relationship problems? What if I feel fine except for a minor stomachache from eating too much at lunch? What should I answer then?

The next question is, do you really want to know how the other person is doing or do you only ask as a sign of courtesy? Frankly, I am not much into small talk as the conversation seems forced. Unless you are friends or family, nobody actually wants to know how the other person is at any given time of the day. We just ask for the sake of asking due to social expectations. Be honest. Do you really care if an acquaintance is having a good day or not? If the answer is no, why do we ask them about their day?

It seems that it is good manners to ask about someone’s day whenever we meet them as if it is a sign of caring for someone’s wellbeing. It does not matter the least that the question is always asked in expectation of the classic reply of “I’m fine” which makes it somewhat redundant. If I had a dollar for the number of times that someone had looked away uncomfortably and changed the subject as I answered in detail to the question of how I was doing on a particularly bad day, I would have been rich by now. The uncomfortable truth is that very few people truly care about the wellbeing of a friend from all aspects let alone those of an acquaintance. Therefore, most of the time, “How are you?” is not an invitation to discuss about problems that you are having.

In Malaysia, we often ask “Have you eaten?” as a form of greeting. Again, most people truly do not care if you have eaten or not; the question just forms naturally. It is quite bizarre that we ask this question no matter the time of the day. I guess it always refers to the last meal that we have had. Sometimes we may probe further by asking the details of the meal but most of the time, it acts as a standalone question just like “How are you?” This means that the answer is either “Yes, I have eaten” or “No, I haven’t but I will eat soon” followed by regular conversation / small talk with no further discussion on the meal that you’ve had. This is the part when you will know that the person is just exchanging pleasantries with you rather than having an actual interest in your lunch.

What about you? Do you really want to know the real answer to the question when you ask someone about their day?

Recommended6 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Opinion Piece

Responses

  1. I ask and truly want to know how someone is doing. If it’s bad, then I’m here to listen and help if I can.

    It’s interesting that in Malaysia people ask if you’ve eaten. Where I’m from, (Appalachian Mountains) if someone visits your home, we ask if they are hungry or would like something to eat or drink.

    1. You are such a nice person! :). And oh, you treat your guests very well. It’s the same for us when someone visits our home too. It’s been a while since we’ve had guests over .. for obvious reason.

  2. I do really want to know the answer to be honest, but I do form it out of habit more so than deep concern. But I do see it still as an invitation to share any emotion. All emotions are valid, and I want to hear about people’s ups and downs. I am here for that for strangers as well as friends. Maybe people sense this about me, because people really do often share (strangers included) with me, and I consider that a great honour.

    I’d love to see more of the world ask “how are you” with an openness to really know. To have pain witnessed is to change its nature.

    1. Hey, thanks for dropping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment. I think that you are one of those people that others just feel comfortable opening up to. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a few wonderful people like that too.

  3. As you said, it’s more out of habit to ask. I remember many years ago a coworker, Mary. Every time I came across Mary she’d ask, “how are you?” After I let her know I was fine, she’d respond, “Good for you.” One day, she entered my working area to use the copier. Meanwhile, another coworker, Janet, and I were working on a project. When Mary arrived she asked how are you? Janet was quick to let her know she had a slight headache and Mary responded, “Good for you.” We couldn’t help but laugh and that’s when I realized Mary asked out of habit and there really was no concern there.

  4. “How are you?” is such a loaded a question as many people do sincerely want to know how you are, but I find some people have so much on their plate to share that the thought of unloading troubles is kept deep within.
    I sincerely want to know how someone is doing when I ask the question.
    This is a great read and thoughtful.
    Thank you for sharing!

  5. I prefer them asking me if I had eaten. And I also prefer that when they asked me, they have some pocket money to spare, to bless me with a meal. I usually ensure I have that enough to ask for an open conversation. If I do not have enough, I do not ask if they had eaten. LOL!
    Usually, I bumped into occasional friends, seasonal friends, and etc where we spontaneously catch up for a meal together nearby wherever we are.