When did “how are you?” become an invitation to tell everyone how busy you are?
Even though “how are you?” looks like a question, it has really just become a standard greeting with a few standard answers.
Responses for “How are you?” are some variation of:
- Good, how are you
- Good, but busy
- Don’t ask
- Oh, you know, keeping my head above water
- So busy
- Just busy
- Really Busy
If you greet a child with “how are you?”, they will tell you how they are and why or what they are doing and assume that you are genuinely interested. Their answer to “how are you?” will be something like, “I’m good and I am building this enormous tree out of Legos and my mom is making grilled cheese for lunch and then we are going….”
There are two general problems with way “How are you?” has evolved.
- It is rarely asked with sincerity. Because it is part of our standard greeting, we are unprepared and often uninterested in dealing with any answer other than one of the responses above.
- The answer often sets the tone for your day (and generally, it is not positive). Do you know someone who is always busy. Maybe that person is you. It’s been me before. I know people who think they have been busy their whole lives and they only reinforce that by answering “so busy”. Perhaps they are so busy thinking about how busy they are, that they don’t get anything done and stay in this perpetual state of busyness.
- Be genuine when asking. Ask the question thoughtfully and be interested in the response.
- Lie when answering. Answer the question in the way that you want to spend the rest of your day. While I think honesty and integrity are very important qualities, in this case, if someone asks you how you are, and you are running late and wondering how you are going to make it through the day, just say, “I am doing great” or “Great, I have a long lunch planned” or something like that. See if by answering the way you want to be, instead of how you think you are, will change your outlook.
- Rephrase the question. Instead of “How are you?” try, “Are you having a good day?” or don’t make it a question at all. “Hi, it’s good to see you!”. I’ve been trying, “Great to see you. Wow, you look so relaxed”. When someone thinks they looked relaxed, they don’t try to look/be/feel so rushed and busy.
The one way we can change this daily greeting exchange into something more positive and productive is to stop wearing the “Busy” badge. We wear the “I’m so busy and overworked” badge like it is a gold medal. Somehow, we got confused and started thinking that always being busy is impressive. Little did we know that “being busy” doesn’t mean shit. It doesn’t mean that we are getting anything done and it certainly doesn’t mean that our lives are getting better and happier. Not knowing when your next break is happening is not impressive, it is sad. Over committing is not impressive, it is stressful. Skipping meals because you are so busy is not impressive, it is unhealthy. Until you can get to a place where you can answer the question “how are you?” with anything but “so busy”, try out something like, “busy but making changes so I can slow down”.
How you answer “how are you?” internally, may open some doors for you in discovering the changes you want to make in your life. If you’ve ever silently answered, “I’d be great if I wasn’t working so much” or “…didn’t have to catch up on housecleaning over the weekend” or “…could spend more time creating” “…had a dog”, then you know what you want. Next step – figure out how to get there.
So, how are you? How could you be better?