How are you?
It can feel like such a simple question yet can cause so many different visceral reactions:
Such a tiny sentence can wield such power and also can be cast off as an effortless acknowledgement.
It can be used as a tool to reconnect with a friend we haven’t seen in the longest or accidentally as a slip up when we encounter someone who just lost their job…or a loved one.
But have you ever stopped to consider what you REALLY mean when you ask the question, How are you?
What’s your endgame?
Is it to move onto the next topic?
To find out the latest in someone’s life?
To offer advice or condolence?
Sometimes it’s all of these - depending on the situation.
And what does it mean to you, when someone asks you that simple yet loaded question?
For me personally, whether good or bad, it’s usually met with a deep exhale as I process - How am I?! (Sometimes I don’t even know).
We are so quick to ask it of others, how often do we ask it of ourselves?
And can such a vague, blanket question really meet the needs of the person in front of us - even if it’s the person in the mirror?
It can be daunting and sometimes when we are hyper aware of the weight in that question, it can make us unsure or even hesitant in our communication with others.
Relationship therapist Debra Roberts, LCSW, author of The Relationship Protocol: How to Talk, Defuse, and Build Healthier Relationships says “These days, conversations can feel awkward because there’s this looming backdrop of how not normal our lives are now. It makes us hesitate to reach out, since, for the most part, we’re all dealing with the same stressors and fears. But, don’t let that stop you: Reach out, check in, say hi, and let the people you care about know that you’re thinking of them."
This quote is derived from an April 2020 article in Well + Good by Mary Grace Garis entitled 7 Other Ways to Say ‘How Are You Doing’ That Are Actually, You Know, Helpful.
What a lifetime ago April 2020 feels.
And while lockdown may have been altered a bit, the article could easily have come out within the last month.
So many of the same issues, uncertainties and daily hardships that we faced then are still with us - albeit a bit morphed, downsized or even scaled up.
But what this article does beautifully is not only giving us alternatives to use instead of
How are you?, but also why each phrase makes a difference.
My personal favorite from the article is: How are you taking care of yourself these days?
It can become a pretty intimate question when asked genuinely. It can open the floor for more vulnerable conversations about what is happening in someone’s life but it can also invite joy, excitement and curiosity about something new that person has incorporated into their world.
I gain a lot from this question and even in the midst of struggle, it feels like a little light.
Some of my favorite answers I’ve personally shared are:
Taking baths with lit candles
Quiet morning walks to watch the world wake up
Monthly virtual educational calls about vintage architecture in Los Angeles
The first two can even serve as reminders to the person I am speaking with, that they too can give themselves a simple gift of relaxation - like a bath or walk. I get so excited talking about how those two restore me.
The latter coincides with my new found creative prowess. I always had a love and admiration for all things creative, but the last two years have allowed me to live in it more than ever before.
I find inspiration in so many things, but vintage architecture outweighs many. And I willingly gush about it.
*Sometimes more than someone may want to hear.*
But the point is, that question stirs something inside of me and gives me a starting place. It may shed a new light on my life that the recipient wasn’t even aware of which leads to new friendship exploration + conversation.
So that’s one half of the oreo - the second half is how much capacity do you have to listen?
If someone were to delve into the depths of what they are experiencing, would you be able to carry that with them? Would that be a safe invitation for them to enter into? Would it be for you?
Sometimes, we just don’t have the capacity to carry the stories of those around us, and that’s OK.
In those instances, I love to leave people with a wish - I’ll say something like, “I hope you’re finding peace this week,” or “I hope your weekend is filled with joy.”
It comes from a veritable place, is a kind wish and also gives us both a little breathing room.
Conversation is a delicate balance and like everything, requires a bit of practice.
But, also like anything, when done from a place of love, compassion + care, can really make a difference.
It’s OK to not know, and OK to mess up. But when we keep actively trying to improve the way we interact with others in the world - oh, what a difference that makes.
So my humble advice:
Read that wonderful column by Mary Grace Garis HERE.
Lead your interactions with an open heart and a thoughtful process.
Take care, friends.
Written by Ally B