This is Why I Hate the Question, “How Are You?”

Sometimes we’re not fine

Anne Peterson
4 min readMar 11, 2018


Photo Courtesy

I can’t help it, I just can’t stand it.

Three words that mean nothing: “How are you?”

Let’s be honest. When we ask, there is really only one acceptable answer:“Fine.”

That’s all people expect to hear. “Doing okay,” “hanging in there,” or something like that.

But there are people out there who keep believing that when people ask, they really want to know.

And this is why I hate the question, “How are You?”

And then we, I mean they launch into how they are, just to find out, *BUZZ* — wrong answer.

So why not just delete the whole phrase?

Sometimes our communication is misunderstood. And sometimes it’s unsettling.

Courtesy of YouTube

I guess it’s really not the phrase that gets to me. I think it’s that we use it instead of really finding out how someone is doing.

In all fairness, we can’t always give someone the opportunity to give the unabridged version of how they are. Especially if we’re asking in passing.

Do this instead

But couldn’t we ask if we could meet for coffee? Could we take the time to really see how people are, instead of just saying something that means nothing?

Why ask, if you really don’t want to know?

It’s the same thing, standing in line, at the grocery counter when the cashier asks, “How’s it going?”

I find it’s good to return the volley. To let the focus be on them. And I find it sometimes surprises them.

Everyone could use a drink of cold water now and then.

I’m afraid people are losing the art of communication. And it’s something we can’t afford to lose.

There is a difference between hearing a person and listening to them.

Active listening means you hear not only the words, but you also pay attention to their body language. You tune into them completely.

So I’m not sure where “How are you?” “I’m fine,” really makes the cut. It becomes idle words.

True story

Once my husband wanted to prove something to me.

At church one morning, Don asked my husband, “How are you?”

Mike gave me a look and without missing a beat, he replied, “Rotten.”

And Don continued talking as if Mike gave the correct response.

Later, Mike just looked at me and said, “See? I told you. They don’t care.”

I’ve been told church is not the place to expect that people will engage in a conversation. And that surprised me, because as long as I can remember, church is a place filled with caring people. People who know God.

And I’ve been told that there is no time to answer a question like that in some places. And I can appreciate that too.

I’m just suggesting that instead of saying what we really don’t mean, we delete it from our list of niceties. Because to those who are hurting, or struggling to just hang on, they forget it’s not a real question, till it’s too late.

And nothing is more hurtful to the one who is hurting than being ignored, or overlooked.

Having written a recent article about the overlooked in church, I can tell you, it’s almost everyone, at one time or another.

People need people. It’s how we were made. In one verse in the Bible it even talks about how two are better than one because if one falls the other can pick them up, and it goes on to say a strand of three cannot be easily broken.

So it’s true, we need one another.

I just think it would be great if we would really see others.

I think some people feel invisible. I even wrote about that here.

So why not give it some thought? And try and be creative. And if you do slip and say those three words, pause. And just give someone a chance to really answer.

You may end up being the only person who really hears them today. And that can make all the difference in the world.

Mr. Rogers

I read an article online yesterday about someone who was abused as a child. Consequently, they felt like they were a bad person, unworthy of anyone’s attention.

And one day after being beat and left in his room alone, this boyreached up and turned on the television to hear, “Did you know you’re a special person and I like you, just the way you are.”

Mr. Rogers was looking out at his audience, but for that moment, he was speaking directly to this hurting boy. And that one comment seeped into his broken heart, giving him exactly what he so desperately needed.

Maybe we can be like Mr. Rogers. We can be a someone who makes a difference in someone’s life.

We can at least try.

And by the way, I am fine. I really am, and thanks for asking.

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Anne Peterson

Poet, Speaker, published author 16 books. Most recent book, Always There. Visit Anne’s website to sign up for a free eBook.