How Is Your Day?
The Underappreciated Depth and Meaning of a Seemingly Superficial Question
Nearly every day, when my wife and I sit down to eat dinner, I try to ask — over an endlessly chatting 4 year-old and a loudly eating 1 year-old — how was your day? It’s a question that many of us ask every day of both people we know and care about, as well as relative strangers. But do we ever stop to ponder the depth and meaning of that question? If we did, would it change how and when we ask it, and what we mean by it?
We may think that there are just 24 hours in a day, and we’re all just living that same 24 hours as the sun rises, sets, and rises again. We can fall into viewing the Earth’s rotation as one objective pre-defined period of time that is the same for everyone. But when we really think about it, nothing could be further from the truth.
There are currently somewhere around 7.6 billion people living on this planet. And each one of them wakes up every day, and begins another journey into the relative unknown of their lives. That’s 7.6 billion encounters with accomplishment, disappointment, loss, elation, love, romance, depression, isolation, fear, joy, worry, doubt, laughter, tears, hope, hard work, exhaustion, elation, and so on. That’s 7.6 billion separate, slightly different views of the sun rising and setting. It’s 7.6 billion separate and distinct sets of thoughts and perceptions.
Time — however objective we think it is — unfolds in a hopelessly subjective way. One person’s instant is another person’s eternity. One person’s moments unfolding in slow-motion is another person’s disbelief that time is already up. When we acknowledge this difference, we can begin to embrace and enjoy the richness of the variety of lived experiences we all have — even in one single 24-hour period.
When I first began dating my wife, and began asking how her day was, I was under the spell of thinking that she and I were living roughly the same day. It made the way I asked the question so superficial and empty. And that made the answer much the same. People respond more to the way you ask a question than the content of the question itself. So when you ask how was your day? — take that under consideration. My day was radically different than yours, and yours was radically different from your neighbor’s, and so on and so forth — 7.6 billion times over.
Perhaps your day was fine — whatever that means. But what does that mean? What did you feel today? What surprised you? What scared you? What has left a mark on your mind that will carry on into your next day? What is worth sharing? What do you need to mull over a bit more? These are just some of the questions that relate to a day — and the answers will be different for everyone.
One of my favorite principles to live by comes from Stephen Covey, who advised us to “seek first to understand; then to be understood.” As a gateway into better understanding someone, I can think of no better or more univerally applicable tool than the question how was your day?