Never ask – “How are you feeling today?”


It’s taken me a long time to get out of the automatic habit of saying, “How are you?” when I see someone. That question would be all right to ask most healthy people because the spontaneous response of “fine” would be appropriate.

I have discovered that people who are ill hate that simple question. Most of the time the answer is not “fine” and yet they feel obligated to answer with that very response, so as not to disappoint. When I questioned my daughter Christine about giving such a positive response, on a day when she felt just awful, she said “Mom, people don’t always want to know the real answer to that question. Also, who really wants to go through a litany of symptoms and aches and pains? It’s easier to just say-fine.” You have to pick and choose whom to be honest with and who really wants that quick succinct answer- “fine.”
Recently, my 80 year old mom has been recuperating from major knee surgery. At the beginning of her recuperation, when I went into her hospital room I slipped back into the bad habit and the cliché of saying “hi Mom, how are you?” She would then tell me one or many adjectives that fit the description of lousy and our time together inevitably started off on a negative note.
Now, I begin the visit by asking “How was your day today? Anybody call or visit?” I get lots more information and at this point, I kind of know how she feels and when she is having less pain. As most of you know- pain has a way of showing itself on your face. It doesn’t need an announcement that it is here.
So the next time someone asks you “How are you?” – be patient, it’s become more of a greeting than a true inquiry. And the next time you see someone you know who is sick or recuperating ask “What is new?” or “How was your day?” If they want you to know about their health, they will tell you.
So to all of you out there- “How was your day?”….. Great, I hope.
by Janet Miserandino © 2005

  • MiniMorg

    sorry i meant to say my mum said what she did BEFORE i wrote the letter. Damn brain fog. gaH

  • MiniMorg

    I can also relate so much to this article. Its unbelievable how even the people who know I am permanently sick still ask each and every day “How are you? Are you better now then?”
    I recently wrote a three page letter to my mum who’d responded to me with “So what? We all get exhausted”.
    And one of the things I mentioned in the letter was the very thing this article talks about.
    Its amazing how people can ask “how are you?” when they’re not going to like the answer anyway.
    My partner has got into the habit of asking “so what you been up to?” rather than “how are you?” If he really wants to know he asks “how bad/good are you feeling today?” Or he just looks at me and doesn’t need to ask.

    And Heather L, its crazy when a doctor can ask such a daft question.

  • Heather L

    My personal favorite was when I was asked by an ER doctor, “So how are you doing?” I basically looked at her funny and said, “Well, if I was doing well I wouldn’t be here.” She seemed astounded by my response.

    That, and I used to work in retail. So when my UC was flaring, and customers would ask how I was doing, it was kinda rough going “Oh, I’m doing OK, how are you” when what I really meant was “I’m feeling like complete and utter crap and it’s too tiring just to stand right now.”

  • “J”

    I just wanted to express my gratitude for you sentiments. I’m in college and recently diagnosed with CFS and Costocondritis; it’s amazing how much of a social norm it is to just smile and respond “fine” when someone asks how you are. What I deal with is frustrating, but not completely debilitating. I cannot even begin to sympathize properly with those that deal with more serious chronic illnesses on regular basis. So thank you, to everyone out there that continues to get up every morning, and smile at strangers and friends a like… through the good, and the bad.

  • Tiger

    I’ve told my husband not to ask me what I’ve done today and, instead, to ask how I am today. I just don’t want to have to feel as if I have to itemize the few little things that I managed to accomplish, which would seem trivial to most people. “How was your day” seems like a better answer. When I keep the pain and other symptoms in because I don’t feel comfortable talking about it, I find that, even when I gut it out, those closest to me take it as a sign that I can do more. So I try, and often crash. I don’t want to burden my husband and kids and friends with every detail, but I believe that my husband needs to know, so we can plan appropriately. At the same time, I don’t want to be a walking catalogue of symptoms. Frustrating.

  • nichole

    my close friends know that for me FINE means
    Frustrated , Insecure Neurotic and Emotional. When I am not feeling that bad I will say okay or something like that. At least with the acronym everyone can have the answer they would be comfortable with

  • Othlon

    I don’t like saying “fine” to this ever to frequent greeting, i usualy answer with “i’m alive!” or just “alive!” because hay its true and is positive!
    i like the idea of changing things a bit by not asking other people “how are you” ourselves.

  • Jordan

    Absolutely agree. “Fine” is the automatic answer, but inside I’m entirely aware that “well, I nearly fainted in the shower this morning, again” or “I would like to chop my legs off so I can’t feel my knees or ankles or hips or even toes the way they’re aching”. But it’s always “fine”. Nobody wants to hear that stuff. At some point you realize somebody (my mother, especially) has no idea you’ve been in agony for weeks straight, because you never mentioned it. It becomes that silent, that you forget you haven’t said anything.

  • Bailey Bodle

    This is sooo true. I get asked all the time about how I am feeling (I have fybromyalgia, Rhumetoid, and Lupus) and I always want to say “HORRIBLE” when really i just say “good” or “alright” and sometimes “okay”.

  • Thank you so much, I totally relate.Just this weekend we were discussing this issue. It has taken 5 years for my friends and family to finally “Get It”, get the fact that I am really sick. They use to look at me on the outside and think “what is she complaining about, she looks fine?” It is so hard to to say you feel fine, when you really don’t. There is a joke between my Mom and I now…she calls everyday to see how I am (she really wants to know how I am), but I HATE complaining everyday, so I say do you want to the truth or a lie, she usually wants the truth. So, we laugh about it, it usually makes me feel better just to laugh.

  • REL

    Oh so true! I live with my grandmother at the moment, who’s in the habit of asking every morning, right after waking me up and before I’ve managed to sit up, “how are you?”
    Then she gets on my case, tells me it’s nothing because I’m only 19 and if SHE can do it at 60-something then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to.

  • KelsRog

    I think about that question every single day at work. I long to tell people that dont know about my PA how I feel, but I don’t want to drag them down. I’m NOT fine. I just wish people knew. I’m a 19 year old, they expect me to be having the greatest years of my life…

  • Taylor

    Thank you for this article. I am currently caring for my father, who is in long-term rehab to recover from complications after heart surgery. Dad is making progress, but this whole situation is so difficult for me physically, emotionally, etc. People ask, “How are you?” and if I say anything other than “Fine,” they immediately change the subject. Just once, I would like to hear someone say, “I know you’re going through a rough time. If I can do anything to help you out, please let me know.” Sometimes they say things like, “I’m sure everything will be all right.” Perhaps that’s their way of being optimistic, but for some reason, it feel as if they are diminishing the stress under which my family is living. This experience has taught me never to ask someone, “How are you?” unless I sincerely want to hear the answer and have the capacity to respond in a helpful manner.

  • kara

    Wow, totally agree.
    I get asked about my day and its ALWAYS fine. Because in reality, i nearly always am not fine.
    I am usually dizzy and in bad pain.
    So thank you.

  • Margaret L. Been

    I find this website so inspiring! When people ask me how I am, I like to say, “Well my body is a bit strange, but all is well with my soul!” 🙂

  • Mollie Mixon

    I just wanted to say how much I relate to what Janet Meserandino is saying. I was diagnosed with MS a little over a year ago, and I sometimes try to avoid talking to people simply because of the question “How are you?”. Deep inside I want to scream terrible!! I want to tell them how every single part of my body aches, and how my spirit feels like its dying every day. Of course this isnt how I feel everyday, but it seems like those are the days that question is bound to appear. I know that there is no way around it so I have learned to say Im hanging in there. Im sick of lying and saying Im just fine, but at the same time most people really dont want to know the details. So I thank you for bringing this up, and helping me to not feel like the only grumpy one out there, lol!!