Think about this. You meet a friend on the street, or maybe an enemy, or possibly an ex-husband or ex-wife. It could be your gastroenterologist, your pastor, your lawyer, your banker, your baker or your barber.
“How’s it going?” you ask. That’s a simple question to which there are several possible responses: “OK,” “So-so,” “Fair to middlin’,” “Lousy,” “Good” and the unlikely one, “GREAT!”
When we ask someone “How’s it going?” most of us don’t really care how it’s going. We ask to be polite. Sometimes, we’ll dive into deep waters and say, “How about those Yankees?” or “How about this weather?” or “How’s the family?” And if you want to get personal, you’ll ask, “Are you married yet?” or “You get divorced yet?” or “Are you still dating that guy?”
Those are questions that require longer answers than most of us want to hear, especially if we have something important to do like go to Costco for free samples of hickory smoked bacon or to Starbucks for a double mocha matcha meringue macchiato — or whatever they call those sickening drinks.
Sad to say, most of us are more interested in ourselves than another person’s trials, travails, tribulations or triumphs. (Did you like that alliteration?) “Just the facts, Ma’am,” as Sgt. Joe Friday would say.
When someone asks me how I am, I usually respond, “Every day’s a struggle.” That immediately raises eyebrows and incites a person’s curiosity. They want to hear more because as a species we take more delight in someone’s misery than in someone’s pleasure.
Be honest, wouldn’t you rather hear someone complain because they lost money in a bad investment than how their kid got a full scholarship to Harvard or they won Powerball? When a person is miserable, it makes us feel better about our own life. When I tell people, “Every day’s a struggle,” they feel good about themselves for the first time in months.
Another favorite response is “fair to middlin’” which I first heard from an old-timer in Georgia. It’s a term commonly used in the South. Fair to middling cotton is an average grade, so saying you’re fair to middlin’ means you’re generally OK.
I usually avoid asking people “How’s the family?” because their response can take all afternoon and evening, and by the time they finish, Starbucks will be closed so I’ll never get a macchiato or free samples at Costco. I also avoid answering that question because it requires a lengthy response about colleges, jobs, marriages, babies and home improvements. So if we meet on the street, don’t ask me “How’s the family?” and I promise I won’t ask you.
Whenever I ask someone “How’s it going?” I seldom hear “It’s going GREAT!” unless the person won $5,000 on a scratcher or inherited his aunt’s beachfront home in the Hamptons.
However, the other day, I asked a fellow, “How ya doing?” and he said, “I’ve never been better!” Is that humanly possible? Is that psychologically possible? I have a hard time believing it’s possible at all.
“Never been better!” is his routine response whether he’s at the Stop & Shop checkout, the post office, the library or the dump. (I don’t know what he tells his therapist, if he has one.)
I was so inspired by his positive attitude that I changed. I stopped saying, “Every day is a struggle.” Now, I say, “I’ve never been better!” At first, I didn’t really believe it, but the idea caught on and I seem to have hypnotized myself into feeling great about life.
Abe Lincoln once said, “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” And Abe was a guy who lived through some of the worst times in history, so he must have known what he was talking about.
People who say they’ve never been better are often in recovery programs and they’ve seen the bad times. Being clean and sober gives them a positive outlook, and they can sincerely say, “I’ve never been better.” One day at a time, they turned their lives around.
When you put your head on the pillow at the end of the day, tell yourself, “I’ve never been better.” Pretty soon, you’ll feel that way. Abe was right.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.