Why do we insist on the question: “How was your day?”
I know it’s a colloquialism. I know it’s intended as an exchange of pleasantries, where I say:
“Doin’ alright, how ‘bout yourself?”
Then you say, “Good!” and we move on.
It’s an exercise in acknowledgment, which I believe in. But, occasionally, someone asks it and means it and I do not know what to do.
How am I supposed to judge an ENTIRE DAY?
What metrics are we using to measure “goodness” or “badness” and why are those my only options? Why does my day have to be ONE thing? Can it have been surprising, infuriating, wonderful, terrible, and graceful all in one?
Why do I have to pass judgment on my day? To moralize it?
I resent this framing.
Plus, it’s bad science. You judge an experience based on how you feel at the end, so the answer to “How was your day?” is just a cognitive bias. That’s why, when psychologists perform experiments where they need to assess feeling states, they check-in multiple times per day. Because what you feel at 10AM may change dramatically by 2PM, and then again by 7PM.
What you feel in that moment, doesn’t reflect much about the moral quality of your day. We can feel GOOD in an objectively BAD situation. The two are rarely correlated since “good” and “bad” are subjective – a funeral is considered bad, but that’s not true is it? It depends on your cultural attitudes about death and who died, or who you might or might not see at the funeral.
American propensity towards moralizing drives me nuts.
A day isn’t bad or good. A day is just a day.
Moralizing our days isn’t helpful. If the point of the question is to get closer to someone, to facilitate or engender connection, then this question doesn’t work.
I’ll speak for myself here, but the answers invariably let me down. Hearing someone say, “it was ok,” or, “bad,” leaves me at a loss. Do I ask follow-up questions? Do they WANT to talk about it? Will they share the nature of this assessment? What metric did they use to determine this ruling?
I feel more distant from them, not closer.
How can we relate and share and foster closeness if we cannot connect?
And how can we connect if we’re reliant on questions that close the door completely to conversation and connection.
I’m still guilty. I ask my husband and daughter daily how their days were and I cringe because the answers tell me nothing and I don’t know why the words continue to spill out of my mouth.
How was your day?
Dr. Becky says if you want a toddler to answer questions you need to ask more specific questions. I find what works with toddlers works with adults. Turns out some adults are way ahead of me on this one.
My friend Nir and I were emailing and instead of asking “How are you” (which is the same as How was your day?”) he wrote, “What’s getting you excited in the morning?”
WHAT A WONDERFUL QUESTION!
My friend Jake is likewise a master at asking better questions. He’s a School Of Life disciple and always brings new frames to the table, even and especially in contexts where, “How was your day?” would suffice.
He’d say, “Have you read any books you enjoyed?” “What’s a Groundhog Day fight you get into with your spouse?” “What’s something you’re looking forward to this week?”
Before the pandemic, we used to co-work twice a week and it would be 8AM and I’d be like, “Jake. I’m drinking coffee. We are not doing questions.” And now I am sad I don’t have anyone asking those questions anymore.
Because the older I get, the more marred I become by the Sisyphean activities of daily living and the less Jake’s and Nir’s I have in my day-to-day life. Instead, I have a lot of small talk interactions where I mostly want them to be over. And, thus, I default to the status quo.
How was your day?
Who gets to do decide how your day was? Do you keep track? Do many bad days mean you had a bad year? A bad life? How many bad years mean your life was bad? Or can you have many bad days and a very good year?
Why do we feel the need to judge the rightness or wrongness of our days <– That is my question.
I reject the idea that a day can be good or bad, right or wrong.
Days, like people, contain multitudes.
Instead, I’d like to know about you and your experience of your day. What happened, how you felt about it, and what will you do next?
We can’t know if it was good or bad, right or wrong. All we can know is that it happened. It’s now over. And we’ll live to fight another one.
I hope you have a “good” day.
PS: What are your default questions? I don’t mean your studied questions that you use when you meet new people or in networking situations. I mean with the people you love. Who you see regularly.
Like when your spouse comes home or when you grab a cocktail with your friend or your cousin comes over or you go to a colleague’s house for dinner.
How do you connect with the people you care about?
PPS: My friend Sarah asks the best questions and collects people who do too. Her program Wise Women’s Council is worth checking out if you’re done with superficial relationships and hungry for deeper connection. (She’s having an open house tomorrow, learn more here). Not an affiliate, just a fan. Sarah is one of my close friends and conversations with her got me through the worst parts of the pandemic. She’s the type of person who doesn’t think it’s weird if you write an ENTIRE EMAIL about the question “How was your day” and will help bolster your argument (or poke holes in it).
If you don’t have a Sarah in your life, but want one check out WWC.