Do you feel like the question “How are you?” has no real meaning? Mental health expert and comedian Ruby Wax has a great suggestion for another question to replace it with.
“How are you?”
It’s a question that most of us ask and answer most days. But many people will do-doubt admit to giving a default answer – “Great, thanks”, “So glad it’s Friday!”, “A bit tired but fine” – instead of an honest reply. That’s likely because we still live in a society where we can feel ashamed or embarrassed to be upfront with people about our mental health.
It’s something that actor Zoë Kravitz recently addressed, revealing in an interview that she’s started answering the question truthfully and without shame.
“When I go to the deli or I’m talking to a waiter or my Uber driver and they say ‘How are you?’ I’ve answered in an honest way for the first time,” she said. “Let’s let everything come to the surface, even with people we come in contact with for a moment. This situation can helps us be a little bit more awake with each other.”
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But comedian and mental health advocate Ruby Wax suggests we go one step further by completely changing the question we so readily rely on in social interactions.
Wax, who has written books on mental health since studying mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford University, runs Frazzled Cafe: an online space for people to connect when they’re not feeling OK.
“‘How are you doing? Oh, I’m fine’ – I don’t want to hear that anymore, I’ll slap somebody,” Wax says on this week’s How to Fail podcast when talking about the Zoom sessions she runs on Frazzled Cafe. “It’s not like they have to feel terrible, but just give me a few more details. I always say to people ‘Give me the weather condition inside your head and then I’ll relax. Because that’s when you go ‘Oh yeah, he or she is like me.’”
“That’s such a good question, about the weather condition inside your head,” replies host Elizabeth Day. “Suddenly that makes it available; it gives you the vocabulary you need to express yourself.”
Wax continues: “Yep, I’m not shrinking them, it’s no therapy. I’m just saying ‘Go below the radar – don’t give me the news, please’… People want to talk about the news but I can just watch it. We’re in another realm here, we should have been here before: when people speak from the heart, that’s community.”
Kate Moyle, a relationship psychotherapist, recently talked to Stylist about the importance of really listening to someone when trying to find out how they are.
“When we give someone our full attention, and ask the question ‘How are you?’ openly listening to their answer, we are showing them their importance,” she explained. “To have someone’s full attention is a demonstration that we are worth it and important enough to deserve it, which makes us feel special.”
Ultimately – whether your asking or replying the question, and regardless of the wording used – the important thing is to just try be completely honest and genuine.
In the podcast episode, Wax continues to talk about more fascinating and relatable issues around mental health: the science behind feeling “frazzled”, the fear she feels when talking to intimidating men, and the impact her parents behaviour had on her adult life.
Images: Getty, How to Fail
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…