The importance of asking ‘How are you?’


Asking ‘How are you?’ might be a simple gesture to you, but a meaningful connection to someone else. — Filepic

New Year resolutions are a tricky thing.

We start the year fresh and ready for new beginnings. We vow to start new habits and end old ones.

And we are confident that the year ahead will be even better than the last.

I sincerely hope 2021 will be a better year for us all.

However, I know I am not alone when I feel slightly apprehensive about what lies ahead.

Enough has been said and written about the unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whether or not you contracted the coronavirus, the pandemic has affected you somehow, in some way.

For some of us, the effects of the pandemic could last a little while longer.

Nonetheless, I do believe that 2020 had its fair share of silver linings, particularly for those in the mental health community.

Emphasising mental health

It is true that those with pre-existing mental health issues have struggled even more during the pandemic.

But it is also true that those who did not experience such challenges previously, may have had, at the very least, glimpses of what the former go through.

They may have also had mental health setbacks of their own over the last year.

While negative emotions and experiences do not translate into blessings (not least in the beginning), there is no doubt that there has been a lot of awareness on mental health as a result of Covid-19.

The do’s and don’ts of the MCO and its subsequent stages has generated some understanding today that mental wellbeing cannot be compromised, and that we must strengthen our mental resilience.

The optimist in me feels that in some ways, we are a stronger community now than we were before Covid-19 hit.

We have learnt to adapt to uncertainty, which is no easy feat.

We have grown as a people and become united as Malaysians, with every intention of moving forward together.

Such is the hikmah (blessings) behind the pandemic that has stopped and disrupted life as we know it.

A simple question

Given the year that we have all had, I have decided to only have one resolution for 2021.

And the resolution is simple: I am going to ask more often, “How are you?”

It is a continuation of what I had touched on in a column for a national daily last April (2020), four weeks into the MCO.

I wrote that we now appreciate the simple gesture of asking “How are you?”

My resolution is to see this continue, so that we remain mindful of others.

I hope to not only ask this of my loved ones, family and friends, but also to those I encounter on a daily basis.

“How are you?” may sound like a simple question, but these three words carry a lot of weight.

At the beginning of our friendship, my best friend asked me, “How are you?” almost on a daily basis.

It felt weird to me and it was not long before I mentioned that such a question was unnecessary.

My best friend only replied that she genuinely wanted to know how I was doing.

It was then that I realised it has become so foreign for us to ask, “How are you?”

This is a lesson that my best friend taught me.

Listening and understanding

We must also think of what the question implies.

Asking someone how they are shows our willingness to connect.

It may be a small gesture to you, but a lifeline to someone else.

I am reminded of the various news reports on suicide over the last year (2020).

A person driven to suicide must have been so overwhelmed by the burden of life that death was seen as a form of escape.

While we recognise that only God can give life and only He can take life, we must understand that suicide is mostly a cry for help.

This means that we must be compassionate to those who contemplate it.

Because the truth is, suicides are largely preventable; rarely does one attempt suicide spontaneously.

“How are you?” could very well be life-changing for some.

This is why I believe asking such a simple question will open the doors to normalise conversations on mental health.

It is only when we ask how the other person is that we learn to listen.

And it is only when we listen that we learn to understand one another.

I believe that those three words can change a person’s world.

I would like your help to promote a new way of thinking for the year ahead and beyond.

In the spirit of new beginnings and gratitude, I hope you will share and partake in my New Year’s resolution.

Kindness and compassion are the only currencies that we need to prepare ourselves for a post-pandemic world.

And it starts with asking “How are you?”

Happy New Year, my fellow Malaysians. May 2021 be a better year for us all.

Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan is the Royal Patron of the National Coalition of Mental Wellbeing and International Patron of World Mental Health Day 2020. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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