Is there a more banal question than How was your day? When asked, we often treat it as a throw-away and reply with a quick and mindless "fine" or "okay," our eyes never leaving the computer or the television screen. We rarely expect it to be the start of a conversation. Research, however, suggests that we’d be wise to take the question seriously, and maybe even embrace it as a daily ritual.
A study of couples conducted at the University of Utah1 found that both partners enjoyed emotional benefits when they asked and answered the question, How was your day?
In the study, participants who told their partners about a positive event in their day reported feeling in a better mood afterwards than participants who hadn't talked about such an event.
On days when participants talked about stressful or negative events, they reported no added increase in their level of stress (unless the event specifically involved the partner). This is noteworthy because many people fear that by sharing something negative, they will automatically feel worse afterwards. The research doesn't support that belief.
How are we impacted when we're on the receiving end of our partner describing positive and negative events? The study found that a partner's mood improved when they heard about a positive event, especially if they were somehow involved in it. And surprisingly, there was no negative effect on the listener's mood simply by hearing a report of a stressful or negative experience in the partner's day (unless the negative experience involved the listener).
"Both positive and negative disclosures should be encouraged," says psychologist Angela Hicks, one of the researchers, "as the negative disclosures do not seem to cause emotional harm, and both types of disclosures are likely to lead to greater feelings of intimacy and connectedness between relationship partners over time."
So do more than offer How was your day? as a mindless toss-off. Create a ritual: sit down together with a cup of tea or glass of wine and get curious about one another's day. Be a bit of a Sherlock and probe. Don't let the commonplace answer of "fine" end the conversation. Say, Tell me more. Take time, show interest, and get ready for the sense of closer connection that this ritual will help you to achieve.
1 Hicks, A.M. and Diamond, L.M. (2008) "How was your day? Couples' affect when telling and hearing daily events." Personal Relationships, 15: 205-228. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2008.00194.x