How asking “How are you?” Can really change your life

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On a Sunday afternoon, a worker was walking through the woods. The sun was slowly setting, barely above the treetops. The worker thought of his upcoming work week. He worried, about how he would do. It was his second month at work and he didn’t make his quota in the first month. He was too overwhelmed. The workers’ kids were running around him and going from one tree to the other trying to find mushrooms. But the worker didn’t notice.

He looked down. Towards the ground and thought to himself. Consumed by his thoughts he didn’t see the trees waving like flags in the wind. He didn’t see the flowers closing their precious gifted leaves for another cold night. Or the birds melodically wishing one another a good night and making their nest ready. The sticks needly folded in a donut-like form. Nor the woodpecker who was still slamming his beak into the trunk of the tree right next to the worker. An acorn fell right before the worker on the sandy road he was on. But he didn’t notice.

“How could I do better? What could I do to make enough money for my boss?” After all his boss wasn’t the nicest of guys. He was furious when he found out his new employer didn’t even reach half of the quota. What had he been doing? His heart rate was significantly increasing and he opened his black leather jacket with a flower sticking out of his breast pocket. The flower he just received from his daughter, who was now busy chasing a butterfly. Still, he didn’t notice. He was trying to figure out what he could do. His temperature was rising and he felt he was sweating. Even though winter was coming and he was telling his kids to keep their jackets tight and closed, he opened it to try to cool down a bit.

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“DADDDD!!!” His daughter suddenly shouted! He was instantly woken up from his bad dream. “Where are you?” He shouted with his voice shivering from fear. “Are you okay?” He shouted soon after. His daughter came rushing out of the bush and had a big smile on her face. Her small teeth covered with colorful plates of her new dental braces made him laugh too. After all, they had gone to the forest because she wanted to and because she was in a lot of pain from the same thing that made the worker now smile from ear to ear. Her new dental braces. “Dad, dad I found one!” She spoke with so much excitement in her voice that the worker forgot all of his previous worries. “What did you find love?” He asked her. “I’ve found a mushroom, one of the big red ones dad.” She answered with even more excitement in her voice.

She grabbed his hand and pulled him along through the forest. He got smacked by some branches and scratched his leather jacket. He noticed this and got angry. He pulled himself loose and looked at his black leather jacket that now had a scar on it. He then looked back at his daughter, who pointed at the mushroom she was standing next to. She looked frightened of the look on her dad’s face. “What’s wrong she asked?” The worker noticed the tremble in her voice and saw that she was scared of his reaction. He thought to himself “I shouldn’t ruin this moment, she has found a mushroom!” Another voice in his head said to him. “No, be mad she ruined your perfectly fine black leather jacket.” But he looked back at his daughter and saw that she was looking at the mushroom again and was smiling. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. This wasn’t the time to be bad. This wasn’t the time to worry. He had a beautiful daughter and all that mattered right now was the mushroom.

He walked up to her and grabbed her hand. “Sorry honey, daddy is a bit stressed about work. As you know daddy has started a new job about a month ago and my first few weeks didn’t go as well. My boss got mad at me and I have to do better.” “But daddy” the daughter interrupted. “Why was your boss mad at you? It was your first week and you tried, isn’t that all that matters?” “No honey, in business it’s important to make money as well.” He replied. “I understand that, but maybe your boss is just not feeling that well. Just like you wanted to get mad at me just then.” She replied in a soft and loving voice, with a bit of fear of having said something wrong. “Hmm, he might be love. Thank you for pointing that out. Now let’s look at your mushroom! It’s ginormous.” The worker spoke loudly. “Yes isn’t it amazing dad!” She replied.

The worker noticed how important it is that he was living in the moment. That he was the leader of his emotions and thoughts. He was going to do something special tomorrow.

How could you!!

The boss was at a family diner. His mother and father were there, as well as his two kids and his loving wife. They all sat at the round diner table, a perfect set with a tablecloth filled with green leaves and beautiful flowers. All the pots and plates were empty. Only the 4 glasses of wine were still filled with some red wine. The bottle stood uncorked in the middle of the table. The boss had just finished a delicious meal and was already on his phone. For just half an hour he didn’t worry about anything. He just enjoyed the food. But as soon as he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket he couldn’t get his mind to focus on the diner. He rushed to finish the rest of the plate leaving his parents looking strangely. They looked at his wife and she nodded and twisted her eyes in a way that said something like. “He always does this. Just leave him be.” Without saying a word.

The boss was frustrating to see that he missed a call from one of his important investors. “He must have been mad about me not making the quota this month.” He thought to himself. “I should call him back.” So he added another to do to his already long list that he had to do before going to bed this night. He knew that he would not get much sleep if he had to finish all of these things. By now he was kinda regretting having diner with his family. He could have spend his time making calls to investors and trying to figure out a way to raise his revenue.

The kids ran across the room, trying to catch one another. As one of the kids bumped into the side of the table. The uncorked bottle of red one wobbled and was about to fall. The boss didn’t notice it all because he was too busy to notice. His wife let out a harsh “ahhh” that filled the room as the bottle of wine fell in the direction of the boss. The red one spat everywhere and soaked the tablecloth as well as leaving a massive stain on the boss his clothes. “HOW COULD YOU!” The boss shouted to his son who had just bumped into the table. He stood up as wine dripped down from his pants. “AHHH” he shouted out in frustration and pure rage. “How could you be so stupid! Don’t you see there is a table right there.” He shouted at his son. The other kid had already run to his mother and now the boy did too. His eyes filled with tears. “I am sorry dad, I didn’t mean…” “No of course not you were just minding your childish games!” The boss interrupted his son. “All you do is play, play, play.” “Heee” The mother shouted at her husband. “That’s enough.” She said. “Would you guys go play in the other room?” she gently asked the two kids as she grabbed their hands tightly and kissed them. Both implying that they really should as well as giving them some most needed love.

The kids ran off to the other room, leaving just the boss, his wife, and the boss’s parents. Who were shocked by his reaction. His dad asked “Is everything alright son? You seem stressed out.” “Oh wow, dad how did you know?” He replied cynically. “I’ve been under the quota for months now and I am soon to be declared bankrupt because all the investors will pull out of the deal. So no I am not at all stressed out, why would you think that dad!” He said loudly. “I was only asking,” his dad said, not wanting to get into a fight this evening. The mother and wife both got up from the table after having a glance at one another. “I’ll clean you up.” Said the wife. “And I will clean the table.” The mother followed.

The boss sighed out of frustration. “How could those boys be so stupid?” He said. “They were just playing honey, don’t be so hard on them. Don’t be so hard on yourself as well.” She sighed as she was trying to clean his clothes. “We’ve planned this diner weeks ago because you were too busy. We never really spend time with each other and now we have time you ruin it. It is not the kids that ruined it. You did.” She said in a rough but gentle way. Kinda shocking the boss. He didn’t answer and stayed silent for the rest of the night.

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The talk I needed

The next day both the worker and the boss entered the building. The boss didn’t say a word, he walked passed his workers and rushed into his office, slamming the door shut behind him. The worker looked at his fellow colleagues who all shrugged their shoulders indicating that they didn’t know either. The worker clocked in with sweet under his armpits. He knew what he was about to do and was scared. Really scared. All the ‘what ifs’ were attacking his focus and trying to get a hold of him. He looked around himself and saw all the people mindlessly typing and looking at their screen. Some were making calls with important customers or investors, the look on their faces was enough to see that they were incomplete stress mode. Backs bend and wrinkles on their foreheads.

He made his first step towards his goal. One by one he came closer to the door. He saw that the boss was looking at his desk with an empty stare. His co-workers looked at him with a questioning expression on their faces. But the worker didn’t notice, he was too focused on his goal for this morning. His daughter had taught him a valuable lesson yesterday and now it was time that he would lead with that very same example. The worker knocked on the door…

It stayed silent for some time, but he saw that the boss grunted and walked towards the door. He opened it and was both amazed and furious that one of his workers dare to interrupt him. “Might I…” the worker started asking with tension in his voice. “might I come in boss?” “Why?” The boss asked furiously. “I wanted to ask you, something boss.” The worker replied. To which the boss gestured to come in. He was delighted to see the new worker this morning, he wasn’t ready to give advice or help him. His taught were roughly interrupted by the voice of the worker. “How are you, boss? I saw you come in today and you didn’t look okay. Is there anything going on in your mind right now?” The worker asked, following up on his daughter’s advice. The boss was shocked. Never had someone who worked for him dared to come in and ask him how he was doing. Yet this new worker dared to do it.

“I’ve not had a great weekend.” The boss began to share with the worker. His posture started to relax and both the worker and boss relaxed a bit. They talked for some time about their weekends and after about half an hour they both had a smile on their face. The boss opened the door of his office again and both he and his worker left it. They walked to the coffee machine and grabbed a cup of coffee, after which the boss shouted through the office “WHO WANTS A CUP OF COFFEE?” He had never done that but he was delighted to do it. The joy radiated from his face as if he had found that which had long been gone. All the workers in the office were amazed and all raised their hands cheering happily. The boss started making coffee for all of them and delivered it to their desks. One by one giving them a little pad on the back. The worker stood at the coffee machine overseeing the wonder that was happening right in front of his eyes. He wanted to cheer out loud and thank his daughter for everything she had taught him with just a small few genuine words followed by an attentive silence. “How are you? What are you thinking about?”

What did they talk about?

You might wonder what the boss and the worker talked about. Not much. They talked about everything I had just shared with you. About their weekends. They shared their experiences and listened to one another. The boss shared his frustration after which the worker shared his frustrations but how his daughter showed him that it wasn’t worth it. That all that mattered was that very moment. The boss was cynical but knew that the worker was right. That his daughter taught him a valuable lesson by asking him one simple question. “How are you?” This question is often overlooked. It’s asked out of politeness and quickly followed by “how are you?” In return. There is no time for listening or any compassion in the question. It’s more of a habit than it is a genuine question. Our normal reaction to this question would be “yeah great” or “I’m doing fine” simple answers that would be amazing if they were true. But we simply aren’t always feeling fine or great. Have we gotten scared to truly share how we are feeling? Even with those asking it genuinely like friends or family? We might have. It might have become normality to ask this and to react with “yeah I’m fine”.

But isn’t the whole point of asking this, to hear how the other genuinely feels? Or are we too scared to hear negative news? Because we are confronted with our unknowingness around that topic? But the daughter in this story shares that we shouldn’t be scared. That we shouldn’t back away. That we should always ask truly. Genuinely. And listen to how the other feels. Not to fix any of it, but to get the other person out of his worries and to support him or her. The value of asking “how are you?” Genuinely has massively been underrated. It’s something I’ve forgotten over the years as well. Too focused on positivity and myself. Not truly listening to someone. After all, that is all we have to do. Listen. Be silent and open your ears, heart, and mind. Maybe you have just some experience, some story, some knowledge that could help the other person. Or maybe you don’t but you have shown that the other person is always free to express how he feels. That is enough, that is all we need more off. Listening and working together instead of speaking and selfishness. We need one another. We can help one another.

So how are you? How has your day been? I ask this genuinely and would love to see you text me on Instagram or send me an email to daan@todayilived.com. This is in appreciation of asking “how are you?”. A reminder for all of us to experience the beauty of living with others.

Today I Lived.

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