The Question Everyone Asks

Posted On: 11.07.12

You go about your day. From Home to Away, back to Home. From Morning to Noon to Night. Through it all, you see people. People you know, people you don’t. And many of these people look at you, if briefly, and ask the same thing:

How are you?

It’s a question you’ve heard again and again. One you’ve learned to answer swiftly, oft with a smile. Your reply has become fun-sized, economical: I’m good, you say, exhausted, but good! Busy, but good! Can’t complain! You chirp these things and go back, back to your day, back to the truth.

Every now and then, someone seems to really want to know. They ask, and pause. They listen. And still. Still you usually give them your stamped-out ready-made response: I’m good! Can’t complain! But sometimes, you stop, you breathe, you forget prudence and the tick of time and the walls you’ve so carefully built for reasons you can’t quite remember.

How are you?

And words come. Stitched together with truth, emotion. You recognize the voice. It’s yours.

 How are you? Really, how are you?


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24 Comments for: "The Question Everyone Asks"
  1. Aidan Donnelley Rowley

    So. First commenter again, but I wanted to come here and answer my own question…

    How am I?

    It has been a really strange few weeks, weeks full of sadness and confusion and thoughtfulness about identity, place, life. But I must say that I woke up very happy this morning. I have made a conscious decision to keep politics off this blog, but today I had to break my own rule and just say that I feel so optimistic about what’s to come for this country. Husband and I stayed up so late watching the television coverage and I am extra tired this morning, but it is all so worth it.

    Anyway, the kiddos need to be dressed and fed before school, and I am off to do that, an extra spring in my ADR step.

    Red or blue, I hope you are all hanging in there today. It would be really cool if you took the time to comment today, to tell me about how you feel about this ubiquitous question that we are often expected NOT to answer. Today, I am asking you to answer it if you are willing. Yep, another post about truth, about saying, about being real. I’m not going to lie: These are my favorite days at ADR.

    Happy Wednesday, all!

    • I love to ask most people how they are because I want to know. For the ones who always have some gloom and doom to offer, I skip the question and just say it’s nice to see them. What I find interesting is when I answer the question when asked is that people are incredulous. My answer ranges from “really good!” to “fantastic!” They often look shocked as thought the answer should be nothing more than “OK.” I wake up most days feeling excited and grateful. Sure there are “those” days, but that’s when I reach down for a blessing or two to count. So how am I today? Fabtastic! a word coined by my grandson. My run is done and it’s time to get out and see how people are feeling today. Thanks for asking!

    • Karin

      I’m glad there’s a spring in the ADR step today :O)

  2. Jessica

    Honestly I feel sick. As a middle-class woman working in the defense industry this is devastating. My healthcare costs are about to go up exponentially so I can support those who won’t get off their tushes. There are now more people on welfare/entitlement programs than are not. 47% of the nation does not pay income taxes. We’re becoming a nation that is dependant on the government and not our own work ethic. Now we’ll try cutting defense spending to pay for these social programs and bailouts because it’s not like there are any unstable people in the middle east working on nuclear weapons! Or we’ll continue to not pass budgets and borrow from China. Sure, I do hold some liberal views (abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research…), but yesterday I voted for my nation’s financial and national security. And unfortunately the candidate with weightier credentials than “community organizer” lost. And I feel sick.

  3. I am tired, because I slept poorly. I am exasperated by my bickering children. I am looking forward to a quiet day of work at my desk. I am happy to have the Christmas carols booming. I am grateful to know you! xox

    • I had a similar conversation with another Mom the other day and find it refreshing that women can actually say that the kids are exhausting and that they find refuge in work. Used to be that we sucked it up and pretended that staying home with kids full time was heaven on earth. We can love the kids and not want to spend 24-7 with them!

  4. Emily

    I am forcing myself to be hopeful this morning. Even though my guy lost, I woke up as I did four years ago…a roof over my head, a job I love, an education that can never be taken away, but most importantly, citizenship in the country I love. I just feel lucky to be an American. After my mom was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, my life perspective seemed to change. I’ve been holding into hope. Hard. In all realms of life. Anything else leaves too much room to become a bitter person.

  5. Jan

    I am not good…first time I have answered that honestly in a very long time. I have no one to share/complain to that would not make a hasty judgement. I am sad and unhappy, and it feels so good to say it for once. – Thank You !

  6. Cherie

    I feel disappointed. I live in Kansas and am married to a physician (surgeon) who co-owns a small medical practice. The amount of government interference in the decisions doctors make on a daily basis has gotten so bad that physicians who have worked hard for their livelihood are beyond fed up. What is the incentive to work hard with cutbacks in reimbursements and a non-medically educated government dictating policy and second guessing what doctors believe is best for their patients? 20 years in practice and he is getting burned out! The unbelievable amount of paperwork drags him down as well.

    My husband along with a large numbers of physicians participate in a local group called Project Access. They rotate on a schedule taking care of the poor for free. I am a Registered Nurse who volunteers in a free non profit clinic for the uninsured. We take care of those who often have jobs but no insurance…the working poor and many who have been laid off from the aircraft industry. This will get worse as small businesses are forced to lay off or make them go part time as they’re not be able to afford to pay for their insurance.

    We care about people and believe in what we do. We are Republicans as well as Catholics.
    I respect those who disagree with me but I do not hate those who have opposing views. This is my viewpoint based on my life experiences.

    On a lighter note, I stumbled upon your blog the other day and really enjoyed reading it! It is fun to read about East Coast City living-so different than here! The Ivy League blog is interesting to me because one of our kids is in the process of considering applying to several. My husband and I are West Coast Educated. He went to U of Oregon and I went to U of Arizona so it is all so new to us!

  7. Kristen De Deyn Kirk

    Such a good blog post! I find people fall into two categories when you ask them “how are you?” — the ones who think I want the stock response (“Great! Thanks! How about you?!) — and the ones who see it as an invitation to spill every last thing that ever happened to them, without the slightest interest in anything that might be new with me. I truly want to know how they are *and* to start a real conversation about both of our worlds.

    Someone above said 47% of people don’t pay taxes; I don’t beleive that’s true, but I want to check into it (I’m a journalist by trade) and hope to hear what the source is for that information. I’m wondering if she was confused by Gov. Romney’s statement about the 47% — his number included anyone who received any type of government funds — from food stamps to feed babies to veterans who need health care, not people who don’t pay taxes. People who don’t pay any taxes are sometimes those folks who make the most in the USA and can find ways to hold off on paying those taxes on their funds for years and years. This is legal, so I understand them doing it, but I’m not sure it’s the *right* thing to do.

  8. I am good, mostly.

    I am encouraged by the election results and hopeful for our country’s potential because of it. It was a big night for gay rights and women’s rights, and that makes me happy. I am sad and frustrated that so many people don’t see why our healthcare system is in need of change. I empathize that this change is going to be hard, especially for those in medical professions, but I wish people would understand that something being uncomfortable doesn’t predicate it from being good.

    On a more personal level, I struggle to find enough (any) time for myself to do things that relax me. At the same time I know how blessed I am to have two happy and healthy boys who keep me busy, a solid and happy marriage, and a job that suits my interests and supports our family. I wish that my dogs didn’t shed so much. And I’m incredibly thankful for our wonderful nanny. I am excited for the holidays and looking forward to extra time with my extended family at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

  9. Pamela

    I am a super huge puddle of sad. It feels great to say that so thank you! I know I have so much in my life to be grateful for (including Obama – yay) but have been struggling. I have so many neighbors and friends who have it much harder so I can’t really talk to anyone about what I am dealing with but thank you so much for creating that space here:) what a kindness. Xoxo

  10. Whitney

    It’s funny you should ask. Since the news about my dad’s cancer, I’ve rarely actually answered the casual “how are you?” with the chirpy responses I was previously accustomed to. Lately, it’s been a resounding “I’m okay.” That’s the best I can muster these days. Sometimes someone who actually cares will followup with “Just okay?” and I typically respond, “Yeah, I’m okay.” Sometimes that leads to more, but to the few who know my still somewhat on the DL news of my dad’s illness, they know that “okay” really is just okay and maybe that’s even good compared to how I might be feeling some days.

    The truth is, I’m really not even okay. Work is completely out of control, to be awake means I’m also incredibly sad, and I’m physically and emotionally drained…utterly exhausted in every way. With work, I feel like I’m on one of those ridiculous rides that you sit in and spin the turntable and it slings you around in all directions and even though you feel totally disoriented and out of control, you keep spinning faster and faster because that’s just…what you’re supposed to do.

    And with my family – with my dad’s illness and my mom’s consequent emotional instability – it feels more like a roller coaster. Sometimes, we get to slowly climb up the hill with a tick-tick-tick-tick with our hope and the good days when he’s feeling good. And then. Suddenly we’re at the top looking down into what seems a bottomless pit and then we’re falling falling falling, not really knowing if we’ll make it back up the other side or just stay there, swinging in the bottom until our momentum runs out completely.

    So anyway, thanks for asking and for letting me answer honestly. I hate to be a Debbie Downer but it does help to get it off my chest.

  11. Sam

    How am I? It’s complicated I think. As you said, it has been a really strange couple of weeks. After all the devastation of the hurricane, on Friday afternoon we moved into our new house a 30 minute train ride away from Manhattan. And I am feeling really sad and anxious about the whole thing, which surprised me. I know that I don’t do so well with change, but the sadness and anxiety hit me like a tidal wave that doesn’t seem to want to stop. I am hoping that it gets better, and starts to feel more like home with each passing day, but right now? I am not that great.

  12. AGB

    I’m sad today, as you probably guessed. (And shocked to see quite a few Conservative ILI readers commenting today!).

    A few weeks ago, I asked a salesperson, “How are you?”. He replied, “Not well,” and went into a bit of detail about how his father had passed away recently. It made me really uncomfortable, since I didn’t even really know him! And then this morning, I greeted someone with, “Hi, how are you?” and got this answer: “Amazing! I’m sure you are, too. Especially since you have two girls! Can you believe Obama won? I couldn’t be more excited! Romney was such an asshole……” (This is someone I met THIS MORNING. I can promise you, if my candidate had won, and she had asked me how I was today, I would have replied with, “Good. You?”. Alas…)

    I think most of the time when someone says “how are you” it is the equivalent of “hello.” But to answer a friend, a good person — today, not great. Tomorrow will be better. 🙂

  13. Karin

    I am well, which is really good! Dare I say it out loud I’ve found a way to live peacefully with food? 60 days ago I set out with a 90-day plan of reformed eating and it has so worked for me. My weight is where I want it to be. I don’t walk around hungry and feeling deprived over something I would eat if it just weren’t forbidden.

    To answer it a second time, I am happy. My mother passed 2 weeks ago after suffering ongoing strokes bringing continually diminished quality of life and finally loss of speech. She was done and is now doing what she said she would do in her next life – dancing! Sometimes I feel guilty that I feel happy but there it is – I feel happy.

    Answering it a third time, I am anxious. Decided just yesterday it’s time to say no to beer – the one consumable I didn’t address 60 days ago so it became an easy habit to numb sadness and anxiety and all things uncomfortable. Starting with 30 days and hoping for the guts to make it longer, much longer. Unfortunately, there’s always that “event” out there I don’t want to do alcohol-free – e.g. the company Christmas party.

    A final comment on the “how are you” question. I don’t have a problem saying, “Fine,” to the acquaintance who uses it as a greeting. I do find it’s often easiest to answer that way to the closer friend who really would listen to a more concise answer but… I don’t walk around continually assessing how I am so how do I one pick just one of the six how-I-ams at any given moment to answer honestly? If it’s a close friend, I hope “distracted” is never the most appropriate answer.

  14. I’m so intrigued by two things. First that many people are looking for a place to say how they really are, without expectations of what’s expected. What honesty. It was nice/relatable to read of people being sad and “not good”. Second, interesting that people who love your blog and relate to you can be, as a commenter said “conservative”. Yes, people can be friends and our friends are red and blue and purple too but more red than blue here and you’re blue (me too).
    How am I? Rambling as usual, procrastinating and annoyed about Prop37. Thanks for asking.

  15. “expectations of what’s expected”? always nice when you reread what you write.

  16. Tessa S.

    The problem with “How are you?” is that it is a very big question. Life is too multi-faceted to be able to give a straight answer such as “Yes” or “No”.
    And related to this, I find the expression “Have a good day” even more useless and annoying.

  17. Meg

    Like others have noted, I have stock responses based on whether the person really is asking or is simply making conversation. It doesn’t bother me either way; I’m all for politeness, and I like the “how’s it going?”-type of greetings. And I’ve gotten better about really listening to the answers.

    When I worked retail, asking folks that question would provoke all sorts of reactions. It was sort of amusing, actually. When I was a bookseller, especially, people seemed to find the bookstore to be a sacred place — maybe somewhere they could air their secrets. Asking “how are you?” would typically provoke honest answers . . . and I really liked that!

    As for me? I’m ecstatic about the election news, and feeling all right in my personal life. I’ve had some random issues crop up this week, and I spent most of yesterday feeling agitated and distracted. But I’m working on clearing things up, moving forward and getting myself together. Like everyone, it’s a work in progress.

  18. I’m doing okay. The beginning of my week was stressful with returning to work, and my boss seems to have a knack for making things more stressful than they need to be… so there was that, but things seem to be calming down now.

  19. I am very good today and very grateful at the election outcome. I have lived for so many years with complete uncertainty regarding health insurance (and paying a fortune each month for what little we get) that I am amazed that soon my pre-existing conditions won’t be held against me. I am saddened, however, by the reaction of one of my dear friends, a very conservative Republican, with whom I never discuss politics. We had a yoga class today together and she would barely talk to me or meet my eyes; she made silly, inane conversation with everyone else waiting for our class and finally told me that she’s upset about the election especially since “Obama should be impeached for Bengazi,” at which point I told her we really needed to not discuss politics. This is one of my closest friends. A sad tinge to the day for that reason.

  20. I know that its just a standard American greeting, but when I ask “How are you?” I really want to know. Sometimes we need to know what’s going on with friends and neighbors so we can help and support them. Every once in a while you need to cut someone a little slack because they have too much on their plate. A simple “how are you?” should be enough to get someone to tell us what they are stressed about. How are you – should be a conversation opener and not a mindless greeting.

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