How are you?
No, really. How are you?
I would ask two questions in regard to the above inquiry. First, how often do you mean it when you say it? And second, how often do you answer honestly?
This questions bugs me. It bugs me because it's another example of the sloppiness of the English language. Most of the time it isn't an actual question as to how your life is going or how you are feeling, it is a way to say hi. I don't like it when words are used in a way that they don't really mean what they say. Clear as mud?
I try to mean it when I say it. Partly because I like to be precise in my communication and partly because I think everyone needs a whole lot more listening ears and hearts in their lives.
So, onto the answering part.
This question has posed problems for me. I would say that it got especially difficult when I started working with a bunch of therapists, and they meant it. It was probably the first time in my life that I really felt like anyone around me wanted to know how I was out of true concern for me, not out of a desire to assess whether or not they could ask me to do something for them.
And then it got worse when I started seeing a therapist professionally. And worse when I got my never-ending headache. At this point I had no idea what this question really meant or how I should answer it.
Let me clarify by saying that I believe in being honest. I try very hard to be honest in every situation. (Partly out of the perfectionism issue.)
So suddenly people were asking me how I was and fine was no longer a default answer. Often I wasn't fine, but I also wasn't sure who really wanted to know. I confess that I erred a great deal here. I tend to over-share. I gave out more information than many people wanted.
I think I've improved some. I think I fliter a little better. But I still sometimes offer the truth even when I know people don't want it.
My favorite place is in the checkout line at the grocery store. It goes something like this:
"How are you?"
"I'm really tired and cranky and trying not to kill people. How are you?"
Now, some people barely notice and move on. Others admit that it's the most honest answer they've heard all day. And others say that they are, too, and we share a moment of bonding. They have just been given permission to be honest, to drop the smile and be true to themselves in the moment.
And then I am a little better. Funny how sharing true emotion for just a second with a nearly complete stranger can be so cleansing. You should try it.
So, how are you?