I get asked this all the time.
I’m betting you do too.
I’m constantly asking it myself. Constantly answering it as well.
“I’m good! Thanks. How are you?”
“I’m well, thank you.”
“Pretty good. You?”
We ask and respond to this question all the time.
When I’m at my best, I offer a pleasant, polite, programmed response. I often don’t answer truthfully. Nor am I equipped to gracefully handle a truthful answer if things are shitty in the lives of whomever I’m speaking with.
Because nobody wants to hear the truth. We can’t handle the truth.
“My marriage is on the verge of breaking,” one of my friends could say.
“My father just passed away,” another would tell me.
“It’s over. We’re getting divorced. We file on Tuesday,” said another.
“My uncle just died. He was like a father to me,” said yet another. “And my best friend for 30 years was just diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Welcome to the Desert of the Real
Morpheus said that to Neo in The Matrix. Neo was still sorting everything out, adjusting to the harsh realities of the real world after having been living in an infinitely more pleasant dream world.
Not so different from how we experience life as blissfully unaware children and young adults only to mature into adulthood and discover what a magnificent job our parents really had done of sheltering us from all the shit flying around.
And this is where we find ourselves.
And things aren’t so simple now. I’m still programmed to tell everyone I’m good.
But am I good? And, when we’re not good—when everything feels like we’re being force fed the biggest pile of shit in history—how are we supposed to answer that question?
Should we lie?
Or should we speak the truth?
The Truth: Unplugged
Once in a great while, I don’t have the energy to lie.
“Not very well, actually! I’m sorry you asked,” I tell them.
Or, “Kinda shitty! How ‘bout you?”
Only your friends know how to deal with that response. But when your friends are asking, they actually care about the answer. They’re already invested in your story.
The people that tend to ask you this are strangers and acquaintances.
And what if we gave it to them straight in those moments? What if we didn’t give the easy response to avoid the awkwardness?
“I’m recently divorced. I miss my son and worry about money. Appreciate you asking, though! How are you?”
Or, an infinite number of other things that happen to people all the time.
“I just lost my job.”
“My mom’s in Hospice.”
“My husband’s having an affair.”
“I have colon cancer.”
“My son was arrested.”
“My daughter had a miscarriage.”
“My best friend died.”
And we’re supposed to be tough. We’re supposed to function. We’re not supposed to lose a step at work. We’re not supposed to make other people feel bad. We’re not supposed to get behind on chores at home. We’re not supposed to change.
But all of these things do change us.
And some of us are very convincing while wearing our masks. And some of us aren’t.
There are some days that are so bad, the mask can’t hide it.
But then someone walks by. Smiles.
“How are you doing, Matt?”
They’re not looking for a conversation. They were just being polite. They were just saying what so many of us are programmed to say.
I force the smile.
“I’m good!” I tell them. “Thank you for asking.”
Sometimes I add: “And you?”
And they always say they’re good, too.
But I know that can’t always be true. Because we’re all in this together. And everyone’s got something.
I agree with saying it even if it feels forced. Even if it feels like a lie. It’s the right play.
Tell them you’re good, even when you’re not.
Everyone has problems, and they needn’t carry ours, too.
But more importantly, I think our brains can be manipulated. I absolutely believe we can choose to feel good, choose to feel happy, choose to feel gratitude.
I’ve spent my life choosing to be an optimist and not a cynic.
And I’m going to keep choosing it.
And it’s not because I’m trying to make you feel better, even though I am.
And it’s not because I want to trick myself into feeling better, even though I do.
It’s because I’m right. It’s because being hopeful is the smarter, wiser, truer path, than being hopeless.
I was driving to work this morning. It was wet. Dark. Windy. The kind of morning that makes you wish you were back in bed.
But then the sun peeked over the horizon and began its daily climb. And you should have seen the brilliant leaves. Borrowing the sunshine. Manufacturing beauty with the rays.
I literally said aloud: “Yes.”
Because the sun always rises. Because the weather always cycles. Because the seasons always change.
I don’t feel good, but I will.
I don’t feel happy, but I will.
I don’t feel peaceful, but I will.
At some point today, someone is going to ask me how I am. And I already know what I’m going to tell them.