Tuesday, September 27, 2011


You know the ones (maybe you even are one)-- the ones who, when asked in passing, "How are you?" answer with some kind of weird daily-affirmation jive about how great or "better and better" they are. The first time or two that I got replies like this I liked it--"Hey, that's kinda clever-- that's a nice kind of magical spell you're working for yourself. I ought to try that." You create your own reality, and all that. But, it has happened enough times that I'm starting to wonder if it's some kind of cult thing, or is it Prozac, or what? I'm starting to think that the truth of it is quite the opposite of what they say: They really mean, "My life is horrible, and I'm depressed about it."

Of course, even if these people are trying to compensate for some kind of inner misery, and they aren't being honest with their answer, it's probably better to keep things positive, isn't it? Why spread your pain to others? No one want to hang around with Gloomy Gus.

Take me for example. I'm quite in favor of not sticking to the social script-- it's good to keep things a little weird, it reminds me that I'm alive. (Or it makes me think I'm "unique"-- but that should be the topic of another post altogether.) When I get asked in passing how I'm doing, I usually try to give an honest assessment (because I'm a bit of a bore). If I'm feeling good, then I say that I'm feeling good, and if I'm tired, then I say that I'm tired. People probably don't want an honest assessment, though-- mostly people want to hear that I'm fine, thanks for asking, see you later.

Oh well. Just thought I'd point it out and make fun of it.


Adam Tavares said...

Some people "fake it until they make it" including their mood. But I'll complicate things a little bit by adding this.

"How are you doing?" sounds a lot different from certain people. The asker's body language and voice inflection prompt the askee to either respond truthfully or regurgitate a canned answer. Most of the time these sorts of conversations happen with coworkers, friends of friends you don't really like, and other people you're forced to interact with.

Insincere questions get insincere answers. Most people don't want to prolong a fake conversation so they just say, "I'm doing great!" If they said, "things are terrible," the asker might feel they have to continue with follow-up questions just to be polite.

So you have to separate impulses at work. Both people want to be polite, but neither one wants to be forthcoming with somebody who really has no interest in them.

That song "Tears Of A Clown" by Smoky Robinson just popped into my head while writing this comment. That tune has some truth in it.

Anonymous said...

where I work...If you give the excited, positive answer....you are being weird. That is mostly why I do it.
I just wrote "aquent" to get my comment on your post.

Anonymous said...

I've observed this strange cultural phenomenon, and would vocalize strange scenarios to family, like a waitress asking how I am doing, and me replying with, "You know what? Thanks for asking. I'm struggling with depression and I'm not sure where I should go with my life right now.." Etc etc plus unnecessary details to make the waitress uncomfortable. That might turn their "autopilot" cultural programming off in that regard.