It’s a very ordinary question and it holds the key to happiness. We hear it all the time. Yet we are hardly aware of the actual question anymore. Instead, we answer routinely with one or another commonplace. Our friends ask us the question when we visit their home, our spouse asks us when we lazily lean back on the sofa in the evening, the nice lady at the bakery asks us with a smile, sometimes even complete strangers ask us unassumingly while passing by, often answered by just the same question in return. How are you?
So how is that such a commonplace can be a key to happiness? The thing is that we often feel we have to do a lot to become happy. We try to be in the right place, in the right time, with the right people. Eat the right food, sleep at the right time, work at the right place. Walk in the right way, drink the right amount, sing in the right key.
We care about what we are, where we are, when we are, who we are, why we are. The key to happiness, however, is much more in how we are. And not in how much we run, how much we earn or how little we spil. The key to to happiness is in how we are.
It is not our circumstances, but our perception of those circumstances that determine how we feel. Let me show you by looking at a few situations:
Your bicycle has a flat right in the middel of your commute, 5 minutes before general closing time you discover the only supermarket in your area is unexpectedly closed for construction and in the middle of your work, without any warning, your computer starts rebooting. Imagine someone asking you How are you? on exactly a moment like that. Would you see the positive side and say you feel good, or would the rush of the moment make you vent your frustrations? By connecting to ourselves on a deeper level, we might actually feel quite happy. If you realize how futile these nuisances are compared to your whole life, you might be able to see through them. You might enjoy the opportunity to walk when your bicycle has a flat tire, you get thrilled because the unexpectedly closed supermarket awakens your creativity to prepare an improvised meal tonight and you are delighted your suddenly rebooting computer gives you a healthy break from work. So not the event itself, but our perception determines how happy we get.
The real question
I remember a classmate called Margreet answering that same old “How are you?” after a short thoughtful silence with “Yeah, I’m happy.” It made people feel awkward as they were thrown out of their common routine and were searching for ways to react. But actually it’s a beautiful thing when the most commonly posed question becomes a strong reminder of our inner happiness. So if, instead of routinely answering the question, you could take the time to contemplate how you really feel. First maybe only the problems of the moment pop up, but if you give them a moment to pop out, you might feel that actually you have a lot to be happy about. That sounds pretty good to me.
So. How are you?