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How are you, Sam?

Each day, people ask me How are you? It’s a fairly normal greeting. I ask others the same questions. These days, I have a few answers I give, depending on my mood [1].

On some days, I say I’m great! While that’s generally not true, I do believe in positive psychology, so I expect that by saying it regularly, I make myself and those around me feel better. When I say I’m great!, I sometimes add some reasons: I’m fortunate to have a wonderful wife, great children, students I enjoy teaching, and a meaningful job that pays me well. I get to make a difference in people’s lives. I get to play with ideas. What could be better?

In recent days, some people have chastised me for that response, at least the short version [2]. Why? They suggest that it is inappropriate to be great in today’s world. They may be right. So I’ve been saying I’m great less these days.

On some days, I say You don’t want to know. Most people accept that statement at face value [3]. Some push a bit. In most cases, I then get to say Well, I can’t really tell you, either. Why is that? Well, days in which I’m really upset or frustrated usually involve confidential issues at work. Perhaps I should work on my response. Perhaps I should say I’m in a bad mood, but I can’t discuss why. I hope you are doing better than I. I’ll think about that.

On some days, I say Old, fat, tired, and grumpy. Normal. All five are true. A few people say, I don’t think of you as fat. I wonder what they think of me, then, because I’m clinically obese. Some say You’re not old. To them, I respond You’re only as old as you feel, and I feel old. No one says I don’t think of you as tired. Why? Most people can tell that I’m tired most of the time. A few say You’re not grumpy. You’re cheerful! Either (a) they don’t read my essays or (b) they don’t pay attention or (c) both.

An amazing number laugh when I say Old, fat, tired, and grumpy. I’m never quite sure why. Maybe they are just cruel. But that’s probably not the real issue. Today, one of my colleagues said, I laughed because it’s unexpected; most people aren’t honest when you ask them how they are. I suppose that’s a more likely reason [4].

These days, I’m working on variations. I feel older some days, tireder [5] some days, and grumpier some days [6]. So sometimes I rearrange the order. Sometimes I try synonyms, or at least similar words, such as exhausted instead of tired or obese instead of fat [7]. But Old, fat, tired, and grumpy feels right. Normal as a follow-up comment feels even better.

But, you know what, other than making people laugh and being true, old, fat, tired, and grumpy is probably not the best thing to say. I think I’ll just go back to saying Great and working to make it true.

p.s. In case you couldn’t tell, tonight I was tired enough that I was not up to writing an extended essays. But that’s okay, I’m great.

p.p.s. The Hemingway Editor says that this essay is readable by a third grader. If you have one of those, please don’t share it with them.

p.p.p.s. Here’s my new idea: I’m going to have this essay printed really small on business cards. When people ask me how I am, I’ll just hand them this essay [8].

[1] Or my muse.

[2] Upon reflection, people have chastised me for saying the long version, too.

[3] Or perhaps they ignore it; people generally don’t pay that much attention to what you say when the ask How are you?

[4] Is it really unexpected that I say old, fat, tired, and grumpy? I say it a lot. It’s my normal state.

[5] Okay, it’s more tired.

[6] My weight is pretty constant, so I don’t feel fatter. Maybe sometime soon I’ll feel thinner.

[7] I’ve never said Appropriately angry instead of grumpy. Maybe I should.

[8] Yes, I realize that I am now rambling. I did say that I’m tired.

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-06.