Pleasantries are meant to help social interactions be more pleasant—and sometimes they work and other times it just feels like extra work in being pleasant. For those of us in the U.S., one of the most inevitable questions, whether at work, with friends or at the grocery store is: “How are you?” How many times a day is this question asked and answered? (Sometimes it feels like a million.)
Most of the time “How are you?” just seems to fall out of your mouth before you even realize what you’re saying, and often the response is the expected: “I’m fine.” [It’s expected since rarely does a person roll out a monologue of how horrible life is (no that in-depth negative response is reserved for close family and friends).] Often, pleasantries are exercises in going through the motions of caring. Do we care when we ask another how they’re doing? I think the answer is almost always: not really. In part because the question is asked so often that it loses its value of being a question worth asking.
While somewhat mindless, this "How are you?" question and answer exchange not only gives the illusion of caring, but often acts as a precursor to an actual conversation—so I guess it has its purpose. And while pleasantries can be useful, often times I’d just like to forgo them altogether. [If I asked how you were yesterday, do I have to do it again today? I mean, how much really changes in a day? (Sigh.).] Yet social etiquette frowns upon ignoring those pleasantries that are so ingrained in us, so I guess I’ll just have to withstand a lifetime of the question “How are you?” just like everyone else.