Home » Happiness Tip: Flip the Script

Happiness Tip: Flip the Script

“How are you?” A good friend asks at lunch. You haven’t seen her for a month or so. You feel guilty that you’ve been out of touch; you tell her all the reasons that you’ve been so, so busy.

She reassures you with 10 billion reasons that she, also, has been too busy to meet earlier or to return your calls promptly. Your detailed lists of your busy busy busy lives leave you both feeling overwhelmed.

Sound familiar?

Our most common greeting from loved ones and casual acquaintances alike (“How are you doing?”) doesn’t really work for us, or our happiness, when the answer generates feelings of overwhelm.

It’s time to change this common little dialog. What if, instead of recounting all that is happening in your life, you use “How are you?” as a prompt to think about something you are grateful for? Even if you don’t feel too busy, taking a moment for gratitude is likely to give you a happiness boost.

Take Action: The next time someone asks you how you are doing, pause for a moment and reflect on something that you a grateful for. Then tell them about that. Perhaps you are grateful for the March sunshine (or needed rain), or that your little girl lost her tooth last night, or that you’ve been reading a particularly fabulous new novel.

Join the Discussion: What other ways can you change this common dialog? Inspire others by leaving a comment.


  1. Debbie says:

    I like to lead off with so what have you been doing for fun? If this leads to a “busy” reply I will recall a fun experience the two of us have had. That usually gets the smiles rolling.

  2. Bernadette says:

    I love that idea, Christine. . . often the required/expected “How are you?” falls on deaf ears and no one really “hears” it, same as people often don’t pay attention and really listen to someone anymore. I will be trying this out myself and it just encouraged me to send a message to my best buddy so we can catch up–and find out how she really is!

  3. Michael says:

    As the father of young children, it’s easy to answer “how are you?” with stories about the trials of parenting…We have twin sons (age 5). I just saw them off to school after they fought over a book this morning and one of them pitched a fit for 15 minutes. It would be easy enough to complain about all of the inappropriate behavior, of course. From a place of gratitude, I’ll focus on how hard they both work to take care of themselves and manage complex emotions. Similarly, the boys and their sister cry and complain daily about what’s for dinner. I realized the other day that, despite their initial protests, they consistently make a good choice and eat what we serve them. I truly am grateful for how they stick with it after a rocky start.

  4. Steve says:

    As a teacher in a fast pace and, yes, busy school, I’ve been musing on the perfunctory nature of the greeting “How are you?” Often it comes with a tone suggesting little or no time to hear any kind of ‘real’ reply. I can hear the tone in my own greeting, when I’m paying attention. As a subconscious response I began answering the question with something like “Happy to be on the planet.” Lo and behold, I find that this kind of ‘bigger picture’ reply tends to wake people out of our routinized responses – salutations as mindfulness practice.

  5. Heather says:

    I love this idea! It definitely make you more mindful when you are speaking with someone. I really believe this will change the course of conversations. I just met up with a friend yesterday who I love to see! We are both very busy and many times overwhelmed, but the next time I see her I am going to start in with what’s going well~

  6. flyguygirl says:

    Excellent. Break the negative repetitive cycle that traps all of us. I am grateful for you, Dr.

  7. Susanne says:

    I love your pitch to be authentic! I’ve definitely fallen out of the habit in small conversation. It reminds me of how my co-worker always got teary when I asked her how she was. She finally told me it was because she knew I actually cared and was ready for a “real” answer. I’m up for trying the gratitude twist!

  8. adamsbja says:

    This tip cheered me up for all the wrong reasons. I’ve been dealing with depression and all the emotions that surround depression for quite a while, but it’s my reflexive habit to respond to the “how are you” question with what awesome has happened recently. It’s nice to come across one of these bits of advice without adding it to my “to try” list.

  9. Paul Nicholas says:

    I often like to open a conversation with “Tell me what nice things have been happening with you lately?” The “tell me” and “with you” are very important, they make the question less direct and personal, more uncommon and unexpected, and prompt a more thoughtful response with a hint of obligation to come up with something positive.

  10. hoshi hikaru says:

    I love this flip of script too. I would like to be aware of specific fruits, berries or vegetables that are in season locally and be thankful for them. Discuss their yumminess and where they’re growing….

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