What are the most common answers to “How are you?” Probably “I’m okay” and “I’m fine,” quickly reciprocated with your own “How are you?”
Let’s hold off on the part where “How are you?” might be the lamest question ever, especially when it’s just part of a casual greeting, and let’s focus on the “I’m okay.”
Sometimes “I’m okay” is just a pat answer, just an evasive conversational maneuver. Sometimes it’s just offered by rote, a reflex. But sometimes, it’s a sincere, simple response that means something better than okay.
I’ve struggled with diagnosed depression for many years, cycling through varying symptoms and different degrees of severity. I know I’m not alone in that experience. When you’re depressed, but you’re actually doing all right, and you answer “I’m okay,” it’s pretty fantastic. You’re being honest, even if it just sounds like everyone’s trite response to an even more trite question. To be okay when depression is weighing you down, when you’re working really hard to be okay is an accomplishment.
But some people want more. They question your “okay” response. They want you to say good or great or awesome. Maybe they’re trying to cheer you up, to make themselves feel better, to make you see the “positive” side of things. But what it actually does is establish a false expectation, a false standard that says your “okay” isn’t good enough, that you need to be something else, feel something else in order for someone else to be comfortable. The pressure to be okay has never made anyone okay.
If you’re going to ask a lame, often insincere question, accept whatever answer you get. If you’re just being polite, keep on asking the same question that’s less than a question.
If you really want a dialogue, ask a real question. If you want to build relationship or rapport, ask a real question. What are some better alternatives to “How are you?” Try “What” instead of “How,” or try a “Have” question with a follow-up “What.”
- What’s going on in your heart lately?
- What have you been dreaming about?
- What projects are you working on?
- What are you feeling passionate about lately?
- What are you looking forward to?
- What things are you working through?
And when you’re speaking with a friend that you know struggles with depression, try to be accepting and appreciative of their answers; try not to imply that their okay isn’t good enough.
What are your suggestions for improvements to “How are you?” What are good questions you’ve been asked in place of “How are you?”