A friend of mine used to ask me every day, “What was the best thing that happened to you today?” I love that question. Unlike the more pedestrian “how are you? or “how was your day?" it forces the person answering to think about a specific event, the entire day, and in a positive context. Even the worst of days, there’s something good—however small—that happens.
I took issue with the question for a while, because I thought it was too passive, the “happened to you” part leaving out self-determination, as if the person to whom the question was directed was an observer or passenger.
Today, after tweeting about sad pandas in the inner sunset, I recalled another panda and saw the question differently. Instead of being passive, it can be interpreted as very personal, an individual observation. Taken in pieces, “What was the best thing that happened?” and then further distinguishing the answer from an abstract sense by explicitly asking “to you.” The answer is then not small talk, scripted or someone else’s. It’s their own.