So, How Are You?: Striking the Balance Between “Real” and “Rant”

Think about it: When you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while (whether it’s been a month or a day!) or even when you meet someone new, what do you say? Chances are, you stick with the tried-and-true “Hi, how are you?” (For most of us, it’s sheer reflex.)

Usually, the answer to this old standby is short and sweet. In fact, we generally expect a reply along the lines of “Very well, thank you.” Sometimes, though, a friend or acquaintance can go into a lot more depth about how her day is progressing—no matter how good or bad that might be! And (let’s face it) it’s those people, the ones who detail how tired, busy, or just plain bad-off they are, who can really make you regret asking at all. And what most people fail to realize is that your answer to this very simple question will either draw people in or scare them away.

The lesson here is clear: When you’re on the answering end, try not to respond to “How are you?” in a negative manner. (This is especially important with new acquaintances—first impressions are a big deal.) Responding negatively presents you in a less-than-ideal light and gives people the sense that you’re a real drag. And if you do it often enough, people just might stop asking you how things are going altogether (and start avoiding you instead).

The next time someone inquires about your day, challenge yourself to be real without descending into a pit of negativity. Use it as an opportunity to further that connection, rather than as a chance to dump your own personal problems on someone else. And yes, you can do that without being ultra-sweet, as I’ve noticed some women feel the need to do. Believe me, it’s completely possible to put a positive spin on an answer that’s still honest. Here are a few examples:

Busy, busy! It’s a given that most of us are busier than ever. Our calendars are so full that we barely have time to blink. But that doesn’t mean others want to hear the details of your schedule! In fact, turning into a verbal datebook may come off as a venting session and give the impression that you’re really too busy to talk. Believe me, I know—I’m so busy planning my wedding that I have to put a little effort into making sure I’m not unintentionally sending out busy vibes when I’m telling others about my day. Here are some fun ways to respond to those how-are-yous the next time you’re feeling the urge to complain about how busy you are:

  • Humor never hurts! In a joking manner, say, “Hanging on by a sheer thread! How are you?”
  • “I’ve been busy, but busy is good for business!”
  • “I’ve never been so busy—but I wouldn’t have it any other way!”
  • “You know me—always on the move!”
  • Relate it to something personal (in my case, that would be my wedding) and say, “This wedding planning is a full-time job, but it’s been a lot fun!”
  • “You know, I’m really busy right now. But I feel very lucky to be so busy!”

Yawn. Let me tell you how tired I am. So you just downed your fourth cup of coffee when some smiley, energetic person comes at you with a how’s-it-going? Perhaps it’s your first week back at work after the new baby, or maybe you’re still recovering from daylight savings time. Even though you may feel that you don’t even have the energy to address the question, try to rally with one of these responses:


  • “I’m still recovering from the fantastic concert, movie, etc. that I watched last night. Let me tell you about it!”
  • “A little sleepy, but thank the Lord for caffeine!”
  • “I got to stay up late holding my baby last night, so I’m a little tired, but I’m so blessed I can’t complain.”


Ugh…I really don’t feel like talking. There are times when we just don’t have much to say. Maybe you’re tired, busy, or just not in the mood to have a conversation. Know that it’s perfectly fine to keep your answer short and sweet. (Plus, the person asking how you’re doing may very well be reaching out just to be polite, anyway!) So when you’re feeling antisocial, simply say, “Never better!” or, “I’m fantastic!” Voilà! Question answered.


Ultimately, we’re all asked quite a few questions throughout the day, so don’t stress over greeting others. Remember that when you’re asked how you’re doing, it’s not an opportunity to vent! Instead, keep your casual conversations positive. And don’t forget that a simple smile can dress up any conversation.


  1. Your new blog really struck home with me. I can’t tell you how many times my friends I’m Texas just bore me to tears with their trite rantings about their sorry ass lives.
    Thank you for you honest blog and I can’t wait to send it to my best friend Beevo who is the biggest violator of these rules

  2. Reading this from Israel and just want to say, How are YOU? Congratulations on this new venture. Hope it goes well. and hope i am the first blogger.

  3. This post brings me back to college. I graduated Cornell in 1961. Some things don’t change. You ht the nail on the head, Marla. There was a student in the College of Architecture that liked to let us know he was working harder than anyone. We thought he was a hoot. My roommate and I made up this poem for him:
    Don’t talk about your indigestion
    “How are you?” is a salutation and not a question.

  4. Marla, love the new blog! My favorite “how are you” response comes from my friend from ex-Yugoslavia, who consistently replies, “Always Good!!” (with an emphasis on Always!) My favorite motto is PACE~ Positive Attitude Changes Everything. —Chris

  5. You are much more civilized that I am when answering!!! But I read a wonderful piece by one of my favorite Jewish/Buddhist authors – Sylvia Boorstein – that shed some light on the subject. She said that when we say “Fine, thank you!” as a response, it isn’t necessarily a sign of dishonesty or a cover-up of our true feelings. What it means is that we are managing, despite challenges, and that is certainly better than not managing! She suggests it indicates a willingness to live life on life’s terms, rather than complaining and resisting what is. And since the only thing we can usually change is our own attitude in most situations, saying that we are fine is a way of setting our intention to be just that!

    Glad to see that you are exploring other avenues of expression. I actually have a blog too and I love doing it. It is wonderful that we can all find ways to reinvent ourselves – it makes aging fun and exciting for me! Keep writing! Much love, Ina

    1. I like Sylvia’s take on how to answer. It does seem like a positive way to set one’s intention. Glad you are enjoying my new blog.

  6. Congratulations on joining the “blogosphere!” Bobbie’s poem hits things square on the head: when most people ask “How are you?”, it’s not really a question at all. Maybe we should all spend some time ruminating on that? Good luck with the new venture!

  7. Thanks so much. I do think it is a an important subject to think about. How you answer that question is another element of “image” and how we are perceived by others.

  8. Interesting point of view. Wondering what you think of it’s implication on society as a whole though? There are times when things like this begin to have global expansion and frustration. I’ll check back to see what you have to say.

  9. Dear Marla,
    First things first.. doesn’t that have a nice ring to it, you took your time and found the true love, may you have a world of love and small spats!

    I still meet and greet many new folks during my work week, their are many who think you are an aid to whatever is “off” with them that day, I smile and tell them would they like a bottle of water, which is in the back of the store, then I take my time…giving them a pat on the back I’ll give them a tour of our department, talk about the great sale that we are planning and that they should look for something that we can keep on hold.. I just “blah ” until they have forgotten what was so bad about their day.. I call it my gift.. making a bit of sunshine for someone who needs attention. Ya’ll come back , you here.
    Your Houston Friend..C.K.

  10. Chris,

    I can just see you doing that. You are a great ambassador for putting a positive spin on someone’s day. I remember so well you traveling to Dallas to be our “showroom hostess” so many years ago. You unruffled the feathers of many of our clients with your southern hospitality until we could show them the collection. Keep up the good work. Marla

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