I'm Just Fine...But Are You Really?
Good writing draws people into it by connecting the reader to the characters on an emotional level. The more descriptive an author can be with thoughts and feelings, the more a reader will be enticed to turn the page. When writers want to convey a very particular emotion, they are often assisted by emotion wheels. These tools start with six basic words—anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. The wheel then branches out to 20, 30, 50, even well over 100 different adjectives.
How many of these emotions do you experience in a single day? Probably a lot. How then, with all these descriptive options available to us, did we decide we would always just be FINE? Is there something magical tucked into the definition of this word that allows it to represent so many complex feelings in just four short letters?
Fine actually does have multiple definitions, but most of them won’t help us tell people how we really are.. Fine can mean:
Marked by or affecting elegance or refinement ----a work of fine art
Superior in quality or kind ----a fine day
Very small ----fine print
A sum imposed as punishment for an offense ----pay the fine
Very thin in gauge or texture ----fine grains of sand
Delicate or subtle in quality or perception ----a fine distinction
Very well ----I feel fine
If you are feeling on top of the world today, then by all means, tell anyone and everyone that you’re “just fine.” But if, like most people on most days, your emotions are mixed or in fact the exact opposite of fine—don’t say it!
I know, I know, easier written than done. Psychological explanations of why we insist on saying we’re fine when we aren’t are wildly different. Various theories claim that you may not feel like explaining right then; you don’t want to bring the other person down; you may be trying to convince yourself that it’s true; or it might be an automatic ritualized greeting, like a handshake. However, I believe that the fault lies not in the answer, but in the question.
“How are you?”
It’s an honest enough inquiry, but more often than not, the inquirer is not the least bit interested in what is said next. What appears to be a friendly exchange is only a way to fill awkward silence. If you can’t be bothered to care about my answer, I shouldn’t be bothered enough to give you a truthful one.
If you really want to know how someone is feeling, you have to avoid the robotic “fine” that follows that particular question. Instead, say what have you been up to lately or tell me what’s been going on with you. Look them in the eye as you say it and offer a comforting smile. Many people love to talk about their feelings and when offered a sincere invitation to open up, they will tell you the truth. The people who don’t want to talk about their feelings, even when they know you’re really listening, will usually tell you the truth about that too. Either way, at least you have a real (albeit evasive for the latter) answer.
It goes for the reverse as well. If someone asks you how you are, don’t just spit out a standard answer. Pause to think about what you’re really feeling and pick a word to describe it. You can be anxious, bewildered, curious, delighted, embarrassed, frustrated, guilty, hopeful, irritated, jealous, lonely, motivated, nostalgic, overwhelmed, paranoid, relieved, smug, triumphant, vengeful…I think you get the idea.
But the one thing you most likely are not, is fine.