When I ask you how you're doing, I'm not puking up a piece of small-talk fluff.
Let me just get that out on the table. Maybe “How are you?” is different in the real world. But since there is some confusion about what it means, I'll let you know my definition—what it means when I ask you how you're doing.
When I say, “How are you?”, I am not looking for a one-sentence response. When I ask you how you're doing, it's because I genuinely care. How are you is me asking how your life is going—what you're feeling right now, what's good and what's bad. I want to understand what's going on. I'm not asking for a one-word answer; I'm asking for a window into your life.
How are you is me asking what's on your mind. What has you excited? What has you down? It's a permission to talk, to ramble even. If my friends can stand listening to me talk about the state of the animation industry, it's the least I can do to listen to whatever you're currently obsessed over.
And contrary to popular belief, I don't mind. When I get going, I can talk a lot. But my default is to listen, and I really do enjoy it—even if I'm not saying anything in return.
And when you reply with “alright” without any explanation, it's a missed opportunity for both you and me. If I wanted to know what's new in your life, you can effectively shoot down the conversation by replying with one word: “good”. I don't get to better understand how your life is going, and you don't get to talk to me.
Let's face it. “How are you” is an empty phrase ninety percent of the time. It's just something you say after “hello”, and too often the reply is a cover-up for how you're actually feeling. (“Fine”—except not really.)
And there's really no better phrase in the English language to catapult people into conversation, if they take advantage of it. Shoot straight. Tell people how you're actually doing. 'Cause if you're honest, you're not just “fine”. People can't sum up their lives in one word. You could be doing fantastic, you could be doing awful, but no one will know if you don't tell them.
Dare to say more than one sentence.