Mind & Body

The bizarre social contract of ‘hi how are you?’

Comedian, author and podcaster Meshel Laurie wants us to stop and think about why we dismiss our troubles. It’s time we started talking about our head-health honestly. 

Wellness is not a dirty word, but it is a wanky one if you ask a lot of reasonable people. It was probably around the time the word “industry” became attached to wellness that more than a few antennae were raised. When Gwyneth Paltrow advocated steaming vaginas to “balance female hormone levels”, a line was drawn firmly in the rock sand in the tiny Japanese Tabeltop Meditation Zen Garden with Authentic Replica Bonsai Tree and Miniature Bamboo Rakes retailing at $65.

Wellness was officially for wankers with too much money.

Then along came 2020 and its even less sociable mate, Covid 19. “They think they’ve got everything sussed, don’t they?” burped 2020, with a hand down its boardshorts.

“Pffft,” farted Covid 19, “hold my beer,” and within a matter of weeks, we were transformed, forever.

We’ve been taught to ask each other, “How are you?” as part of a social contract that relies entirely upon the other person answering untruthfully.

“Good!” they say, no matter what, “How are you?”

“Good!” we answer, and off we go. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stranger at the servo or a sibling, it’s just a procedural thing. Like putting on pants before shoes. “Hi, how are you,” comes before everything else when we engage with another human. I’ve never been arrested or rescued by helicopter from the sea, (yet) but I’m assuming it still holds in both contexts.

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In mid 2020, I observed an unexpected Covid side effect. For the first time in my life, my fellow humans were asking “How are you?” through their masks or over zoom, and then leaning in to hear an actual answer. Further to that, people were telling each other how they actually were. They were saying things like, “I’m not very good today. I was going ok but now, I don’t know, it’s all just getting on top of me a bit…”

After that, both people would talk about their good days and bad days. Yes, they’d discuss their mental health, right out in the open. Then they’d kick around ideas that had helped them feel better in the past, or that they’d heard about and hadn’t got around to trying yet. It was extraordinary.

I’ve tried to capture that spirit in a daily podcast called Calm Ya Farm, where normal people who are sometimes famous share tips for staying sane in crap tastic times. You could call it wellness without the wank I guess, but it’s definitely a back-to-basics approach. No bells or kale smoothies, just short chats from people you know and love, like Lehmo, Lynne McGranger, Damian Leith, Kyle Sandilands, Bonnie Anderson and Yvie Jones.