When was the last time you asked someone "Hi, how are you?" in a way that conveyed that you actually wanted to know?

It's a question we often greet people with as a polite formality before talking about work or whatever is on our mind, but January 22nd is all about asking that question with the utmost sincerity.

Today is Hi, How Are You Day.

Hi, How Are You Day began in 2018 in Austin, and it's no coincidence that it falls on Austin musician and artist Daniel Johnston's birthday. The day for checking on family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers by asking the simple question was inspired by Johnston's struggles with mental illness and a mural he painted on West 21st Street in Texas' capital.

By inspiring people to ask the question, the folks at the Hi, How Are You Project hope to lift the stigma surrounding mental illness and get people communicating and having meaningful conversations about mental health and wellness.

Simply asking someone how they are and being willing to listen and empathize can be an enormous help and comfort. As I've worked to manage my own clinical depression, I've found that even the smallest gesture can help me get through the day, and it's been my hope to pass that blessing on to others by making those same gestures when I can.

In recent years, I believe the stigma surrounding mental illness and talking about mental health has largely been cleared, but mostly when it comes to talking about ourselves. I think there's still a reluctance on many people's part to ask others how they are because we worry about violating their privacy or bothering them. Today is about overcoming that reluctance and letting people know we care.

You don't have to butt into their lives. Just ask, "Hi, how are you?", and let them know your door, your ears, and your heart are open.

Daniel Johnston, who wrote, produced, and distributed his own music in the Austin community, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and spent much of his life in psychiatric care. If you listen to his music, it's incredibly sincere and often childlike, and you get the sense that he not only wanted to share what was happening in his mind and in his heart, but inspire others to do the same. He found a way to turn is mental illness into healing music.

 

Johnston was also a visual artist, and his work caught the attention of other artists around the world - most famously that of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain. His music has been covered by Pearl Jam, Beck, Sonic Youth, and other mainstream bands.

Johnston passed away in September of last year. His life, art, and struggles with mental illness were the subject of a documentary titled The Devil and Daniel Johnston.

Tonight, musicians including Cage the Elephant, White Denim, Jason Falkner, and Tunde Adebimpe will perform in Austin in celebration of Hi, How Are You Day. You can watch a free live stream of the concert here. It's scheduled to begin around 7:30 PM.

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