a realistic dose of cynicism


The art of the high five.


High-fiving is an essential life skill. Right up there next to breathing. Every breath you take. Every move you make. Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be high-fiving you. Strangely enough, it seems that a substantial chunk of the population (accuracy +/- quite a bit) suffers from the inability to make a good high-five. What’s in a good high-five? I’m glad you asked.

A good high five: should create a sharp clapping sound. Both hands should connect palm-to-palm in a smooth, fluid motion. A good high-five should produce a momentary stinging sensation, but shouldn’t produce so much pain that both participants are clutching their wrists, screaming in pain, and writhing in agony a few seconds later. The participants should be facing each other, ideally smiling or expressing some degree of happiness. The high-five should end with a smooth follow-through, whether the hands continue in their natural forward arcs or in a graceful recoiling motion.

Let’s examine the five (fortuitously alliterated, pun intended) components of a successful high-five:

-1. The Provocation.

The appropriate moment requiring a high-five must arise. It must be relatively universally understood and celebrated. Some good examples: if you passed Calc 3, Differential Equations 7, or Irrational Quantities e. Bad examples: when your neighbor is devoured by a velociraptor. Do not high-five the velociraptor.

0. The Position.

Both parties to be involved in the high-five should ideally be facing each other, close enough so that the high-five location occurs within 50-65% of their overall arm reach. This allows for maximum force to be applied on a direct impact. But you knew that already. A demonstration. If your high-five partner looks like this… it’s about right.


This, on the other hand… is kinda too far. Please don’t pay attention to their giant hands. It’s only a distraction, to avert your eyes from the TRUTH.


1. The Primer. (if so desired)

The primer is a step that’s not quite necessary for a successful high-five involving good contact and good follow-through. For younger or less-experienced high-fivers though, the primer may soon usurp the title held by your best friend. It’ll become senior project manager at Initech.

The primer… is quite simply, multiple canceled high-fives in preparation for the ultimate high-five. To see what it looks like… ask Calvin. Go up to him, hold up your right hand, palm facing outward, and say a number, be it 5, 17, or 87. He will immediately respond by priming the high-five the specified number of times. Don’t be intimidated by the colors.

Maybe I’ll put up a video to clarify later.

2. The Performance.

Initiate by raising your palm and yelling, “high-five!” Especially if you’re a guy. Guys are called to initiate these kinds of things. And other things. But if you’re a guy and a lady says to you, “high-five!” and presents their palm and forearm in a high-fiving manner, please just run with it. No one wants to be lectured for 15 minutes about the impropriety of female-initiated high-fives. Some people take high-fives too seriously. I mean, come on.

If the other participant raises their palm in response, then that’s just excellent. Everything’s going according to plan. As your high-fiving partner swings their arm forward to engage in the most complex and wondrous of human interactions, WATCH THEIR ELBOW. Examine the speed at which the elbow pivots. Your brain uses the vector created by their forearm along with the angular rotational speed of the elbow joint to calculate and predict where their hand will be. Or something.

And once you’ve gotten that part down, the rest is… well, I don’t want to call it magic. Let’s call it…


Let’s review. Good:




3. The Postscript.

Follow through. Once the high-five is set in motion, there’s no going back. So even if it ends up missing… follow through. Swing the arm around, trying not to strike the other person in the face, tempting as it may seem. Although no one would blame you if you did. That, or smoothly draw the palm back after the high-five, whether it happened or not.

And if the high-five doesn’t happen? Rookie mistake: they don’t let it go. Just let it go. It wasn’t mean to be.

Common mistakes to avoid:

If the high-fiving moment is based on a relatively obscure reference, one party might be left hanging. Here’s an example of that NOT happening:


Props to anyone who gets this one. And here’s an example where someone’s left hanging… how sad. Don’t be this guy. Or let anyone else be this guy, for that matter.


Just heed my advice, and soon you’ll be quickly on your way to social acceptance without succumbing to peer pressure. I mean, all the cool kids are doing it.


Remember. Provocation. Position. Primer. Performance. Postscript. See? Wasn’t that easy?


Filed under: how-tos, , ,

4 Responses

  1. Dalau says:

    This post deserves a click of the adsense ad.

  2. Jessica says:

    iPhones are hard to type on.

  3. […] Practicing those high-fives. The only thing worse than failing to high-five others is, well… high-fiving yourself. See my guide here. […]

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