Answering The “How Are You?” Question

Over the years, I’ve often thought about these three little words–how are you? They way they are tossed around so easily from one to another, to friends and complete strangers we meet. I often wonder what people expect for an answer when they ask. My first inclination is to smile and answer back, “I am fine. Everything’s fine” regardless of whether that’s the complete truth or not. Who wants to hear how crappy things are going, especially for someone they’ve only just met a few moments ago?

But there have been times when things weren’t so fine, of course there have been. No one is fine 100 % of the time. (If they are, I want to know their secret.) But in all honesty does anyone really want to hear that someone is going through a rough patch and that life isn’t, at the present time, a bed of roses?

As a society, it’s only normal to wish others well. And hearing about the brighter side of other people’s lives makes us feel good. We want to know that all is well with our friends and loved one.

But here’s the thing, this How are you? is just a nicety, something people feel obligated to ask to anyone, even people we don’t really know. It’s a way to start out a conversation. An ice-breaker, if you will. We’re conditioned to it, to ask and pretend we really want a truthful answer from some stranger over the phone.

Let’s be honest, whenever we ask the question of others about how they’re doing, most times we really don’t want to hear about negative things. We’ve probably all done that at one time, asked the question only to spend the next half-hour listening to someone unload their problems. That is the real problem with the How are you? question. We don’t want to hear about someone else’s health condition, financial woes or about the family member who is making their life miserable. Unless of course they’re someone we truly care about. When it comes to someone we’ve just met in person or over the phone, we want to hear about the new pair of shoes they bought or the trip they took, the nice thing the neighbour did for them. What we really want to hear that everything is fine.

And of course many of us have been conditioned to reply with a light-hearted answer because we either don’t want to burden others with our problems or else we want the whole world to think that our lives are perfect and nothing ever goes wrong. Or else we’re sparing them the “gory details” as one person liked to say.

But life isn’t perfect. No one’s life. There will always be pickles along the way. Whether they be big pickles or small pickles, they are still pickles and can cause us grief as we work toward a solution. The thing about life’s pickles is that eventually we get to the bottom of the jar. And while that jar may stay empty for a time, sooner or later another jar will come along to take its place, jam-packed with pickles galore.

So, in the meantime, I sit here contemplating the truth in the How are you? question. What are your thoughts on this? Do you ask the question out of habit because it seems expected or do you only ask when you want a truthful answer? For me, I’d say it’s a bit of both. There are times when I sincerely want to know (in the case of friends and family) but I’ve also asked the question of people I don’t really know just to start a conversation.

As they say old habits die hard but on the other hand it doesn’t mean they’re impossible to break.

Leave a comment


  1. I am good with asking and happy to hear anything anyone wants to share. Same the other way around. I mean the words if I ask them


    • I like that, Freida. I like to know when someone asks me that question that they are really interested, and I absolutely am when I ask friends. But I have noticed I do flip it out when talking to people I don’t know on the phone. It is something I’d like to work on.


  2. I know what you mean. At one point I had to stop asking my dear mother that question, because she would list all her aches and pains, and then all her friends’ and neighbours’ aches and pains. So I started asking specific questions which worked better. It is an automatic response though isn’t it, to say Hello, How are you? I think it’s universal as well. In Spain they say Hola. Cómo estás, which means, Hello, How are you?


    • It is automatic for us, although I’m fairly certain. not something the younger generation do unless they have a job where they deal with the public and it is expected. I have asked people I don’t even know how they are. I find that interesting and a tad bit amusing.

      I’m sure it is a Universal thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sadly, I don’t think people expect an answer half the time they ask. I also think it depends who you are speaking to – whether it’s a close friend/family member or a casual acquaintance. TBH, I am guilty of asking and not really listening to the reply so we can move on to a “proper conversation.” It can sometimes be a convo opener.


    • I think many of us are guilty of that. I know I am. It feels as though it’s almost expected, especially with phone conversations. I have a hard enough time remembering people’s names when I first meet them, let alone anything else. 😉 Maybe, as you say, to be used as a conversation opener. Really, with no expectations. Obviously, if we’re speaking to a friend or family member, we likely do want to know how they are.

      Liked by 1 person


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