How Do You Respond to “How are You Doing?”

Speaking is what most people work on. They forget the thinking and the breathing and instead try to occupy space with sound. - Margaret Heffernan

Speaking is what most people work on. They forget the thinking and the breathing and instead try to occupy space with sound.
– Margaret Heffernan

Yesterday, someone asked me how I was. After pausing for a moment, I sighed to ease the pain in my head, “I suppose that I am doing OK.” To my surprise, my classmate thanked me. “You are the only person here who answers that question honestly. Probably the only person in the whole world.”

Of course, other people do respond truthfully when asked how they are. However, it is uncommon to hear anything other than “OK,” “good,” “great,” and other similar words. Why is it that few people honestly answer this question? Ironically, my response was not even totally correct. At that moment, my head spun with pain as I worried about driving home safely. Yet explaining that to someone would not have been normal.

Perhaps only certain answers are socially acceptable when someone asks “How are you doing?” My aspergian brain urges me to answer bluntly. When I do this, people often feel uncomfortable, shocked, and/or bewildered. Do you have to lie about doing well when someone asks you about your life?


When someone struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, anxiety, OCD, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, PTSD, and other mental health issues, it is often hard to be honest about the inner darkness and hurt. Thus, lying about emotions seems like the easiest option. Saying “I am fine” becomes a habit. Pretty soon, one responds positively without even trying.

In fact, most people seem to answer “How are you doing?” without really stopping to think about the honest answer. When is the last time that you really opened up to someone when they inquired this? What was the reaction that you received? Sometimes people are understanding and willing to listen to your struggles. Yet, many times I ended up being brushed off or dismissed hurriedly. This made me feel even worse which might be the reason that I now fear being open about my inner battle.

So if people do not want to hear the blunt answer to this question, why do we keep asking it? Plus, this is usually asked in informal or hurried settings. Passing someone in the hall, standing in line for a few moments, seeing a new acquaintance – being honest about difficult issues would be uncommon in most of these scenarios.

Yet I continue to ask and respond to this question. More often, however, my response has been the truth about pain or difficulties. People often a bit surprised but usually offer kind encouragement or a promise to pray for me. Others hurry away as quickly as possible. No matter how much you want to be accepted and loved, some will not be willing to stand by your side in hard times. This is painful but their own problem with little to do with you.

So how am I doing right now? Well, there are many emotions mixed up inside of me. Here are a few:

  • Frightened about the goal I just set with my dietician to eat more of my meal plan
  • Excited to start practice for the one act show I was just cast in
  • Nervous about disappointing people at work and making them mad
  • Overwhelmed to buy tickets to Oxford and finish planning my trip for the summer
  • Conflicted about a relationship that I cannot seem to stop thinking about
  • Worried for a dear friend in a potentially dangerous situation
  • Dizzy every moment of the day
  • Hurt at the thought of being beautiful and amazing for a little while and then becoming worthless in that person’s eyes
  • Determined to do well in my homework
  • Loved by wonderful friends on campus
  • Frustrated by my desire to eat although I already had breakfast
  • Ashamed of not being kinder to my mother when I left this morning
  • Drained for a reason that I am not sure of which is making me very Annoyed

Some of these I would rapidly share with anyone who asked. Others will remain a secret when acquaintances cheerily inquire about my life. Finding the balance between honesty and silence is not a simple task. However, to be socially acceptable, one must learn how to do this.


19 thoughts on “How Do You Respond to “How are You Doing?”

  1. I only ever answer “Good. How about you?” when I’m asked how I’m doing. Ever. Even if it’s my therapist, who is the one person I can count on to be consistently genuinely interested in a painfully honest answer. I guess years of social conditioning means that I automatically give my scripted right answer without even thinking about it. At some point, I must have been more honest about it, but that was so long ago I can’t remember.
    Sometimes with a close friend (and most recently, with a caring teacher who asked if I was okay), I’ll say that I’m doing good and then a few seconds later, I’ll process what they asked and what I responded and wish that I’d said the truth instead because in those moments the truth would have been the right answer. But of course, figuring all this out after the conversation’s already moved on is not in the least bit helpful.

    • That is what I often do as well. We are taught from a young age to respond positively. Most people seem to answer this question without even thinking. It is rather sad when you think about how we are teaching people to respond to feelings.

      • I’ve never liked small talk much, because it’s so pointless. It doesn’t tell you anything about the other person other than their ability to construct the correct answer. I always want to have deep and real conversations, ones in which I can be honestly and unapologetically myself, but if I’m too honest, too quickly, people tend to get scared off.

  2. mewhoami says:

    Unfortunately for many, that question has become nothing but a long winded “hello”. Most people don’t stick around long enough to hear even half the answer. They ask and keep walking. As for those who do ask it in a meaningful sense, if they are not ready for the answer then they would be better off not asking. I am guilty of saying good. In fact that is what I say 99% of the time. Lies! But, I’d rather say “good” than have to explain myself.

    • Great point. It is just “hello” to most people. There is nothing wrong with “good” per say. It is just interesting to think about how we respond and what others do with our answer.

  3. Well,
    Normal my dear is “overated”…..LOL. I’m right beside you with the symptoms! I had my 2nd Mental Health Appt. yesterday since being here in Arizona, as they do things way different then when we lived in So. Oregon. My new Doc. The conclusion? I am “CRAZY”! LOL.

    He say’s I do have PTSD from my childhood abuse still present, so I’ll be taking a class they offer free to help with that, and a Life skills class to help my severe depression & agoraphobia. Well see how it helps!
    Another Informative post! 🙂 *Catherine* 🙂

  4. 80smetalman says:

    People ask “How are you?” but they don’t want a full detailed answer to the question, as you rightfully pointed out. My usual response to the question is “I’m surviving.”

  5. kendalgroner says:

    Reblogged this on allthingsmentalhealth and commented:
    Such an insightful response to a seemingly simple question..


    Check out this site. You will love it, because it helps you monitor your situation and help other people at the same time. I am on that site and it helps with what is going on.

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