“How are you?” might be the most underrated and overused question in the world.
It’s subtle. It’s simple. It can mean a myriad of different things.
It can be used for small talk – an opening statement of a conversation to a friend or colleague you haven’t seen for a long time.
It can be used for bigger conversations – a father asking a son how he is or a woman asking about his lover.
It’s simple, but also complex. It’s innocent, but also sensitive. It’s everything and nothing all in one.
How does one answer that question?
If it’s used for small talk, should be the response be just as insignificant? We’ve experienced it before: someone asking this question and then we go into a two-second decision-making sprint whether or not we say how we really are or say something generic like, “I’m okay,” or “I’m good.”
On one hand, this might be true – we are “okay” and we are “good” in every sense of the word. Maybe we’re at that point in our life that we are genuinely fine with everything that’s going on around us.
On the other hand, you and I both that the simplest of replies like “I’m okay” can just be a mask, a façade, to something bigger and deeper. The two-second mind-juggle is a time when we decide whether or not the person who asked that question deserves a generic answer or a genuine one.
Sometimes, the question “how are you?” is solely dependent on the person asking. Do we want to tell him that I’m not okay? Should I tell my friend about this secret? Do I really tell this person that I’m struggling? We decide whether or not that person is capable of knowing anything about us.
That’s the line from being a small talk conversation into a real conversation.
The question is straight-forward but we can also dodge it if we choose to.
Maybe we don’t want people knowing about our lives more than they should. Maybe we want to portray something different about ourselves. Maybe we just want to be left alone.
Or maybe we’re just waiting for someone to ask that question. Maybe asking how you are can translate into something deeper and more genuine. From how are you they can ask how you been or what are you doing now or even further, let’s meet to catch up.
The question can sometimes be all there is and can be something more.
Maybe the question is for the person asking the query. That person is sincerely asking how you are because he or she really cares. That person is curious, wanting to know what you’ve been up to because you haven’t spoken in a long time.
The question breeds about person asking and the person being asked to.
But at the end of the day, it will always boil down to you.
Inevitably, “how are you” is just about that: You.