Do you REALLY mean it when you ask ‘How are you doing?’

One of the most redundant questions that anyone will ever ask you is this – ‘How are you doing?’. Four simple words, understood by anyone with basic familiarity of language. Four simple words, you’ve probably answered several hundred, thousand, seemingly a million times, without it actually going nowhere at least 95% of it. You probably even have your standard reply – Alright. Great! I’m doing very well, thank you. How about yourself? – Mechanical, rote responses that add nothing to the conversation, except a cushion of hesitation to maybe continue.

Language has a profound impact on everything we do. Four simple words can alter the course of your life completely. Welcome, you are hired. Congratulations, it’s a daughter. I love you, too. Your results were negative. Your results were positive. We couldn’t save him. Sorry for your loss. Imagine the reaction you would get to these quadruple phrases. The roller-coaster of emotions, the possibility of change, the beginning of a wholly new life. Compare it with the switch you turn on and off with the beginning of the two-liner ‘How are you doing’ conversation and ask yourself why.

In the rare cases that someone is going through a day that isn’t one of their best, and they do answer that way, an immediate extension of dialogue is initiated by the neurons that quickly hop-skip-jump over the drab former switch onto a concerned empathy router – Oh, what happened? Are you all right? – and rightly so.

But I’m talking about neither of these people. What of people who are genuinely having an amazing day? Why are we humans not programmed to ask why someone is happy? I mean, when I put it that way, it would probably sound like you’re doubting their happiness, or be accused of shooting down their joy with bullets of condescension, raining right over their parade. Doesn’t happiness increase by sharing the same way sadness decreases by sharing?

A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine who had recently cleared a difficult exam in her coursework. She had worked hard for it, studying day in and day out, sacrificing her free time while juggling several responsibilities at once. I asked her to talk me through the process and her progress. Through her stumbling verbosity, it was quite evident that this was the first time she had spoken about something which had happened over six months ago! She was bursting at the seams with joy, and was itching to tell someone. The only thing that prevented her was that sharing joy is not normalised. Some people tend to keep their joys to themselves, celebrate alone, because sharing could be misconstrued as gloating, as showing off, or as having a complete disregard for other people’s fates that might not be as favourable as their own. We aren’t at the stage where we should be with grief-sharing either. However, there are a lot of up-and-coming online forums, physical discussion groups, support teams for sharing of grief. How about we encourage talks of various pleasures in life, also?

So the next time someone tells you their having a great day, ask them why! You’d be surprised at what you get – either a nice little story for you to celebrate vicariously, or a suspicious glare that in all probability will not kill you – i.e. a win-win situation, no?

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