Podcast 127: Make or Accept a Relationship “Repair Attempt,” A Sharpie-Related Travel Hack, and a Vow to Write More Legibly.

Update:  Tomorrow, I get to make a cameo appearance on episode 11 of the “Happier in Hollywood” podcast to talk about my favorite subject these days: the Four Tendencies, and how knowing your Tendency can help you make progress on a writing project.

Try This at Home: Make or accept a “repair attempt.” We mention relationship expert John Gottman’s book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. I explore the issue of “Fight Right” in my book The Happiness Project.

Happiness Hack: When traveling with young children, write your cell-phone number on the child’s arm with a permanent marker.

Know Yourself Better: If you’re facing a difficult task, do you prefer to tackle it early, or do you prefer to work your way up to it?

Listener Answers: Many listeners suggested ideas for handling a sad anniversary.

Gretchen’s  Demerit: I’ve developed a bad habit of making illegible entries in my Filofax planner. It’s extremely annoying.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to my daughter Eliza for her interview on episode 38 on the podcast “The Other ‘F’ Word” [the other f word is failure]. You can also listen to her podcast “Eliza Starting at 16.

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #127

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Want a new podcast to listen to, with the same vibe as Happier? The Onward Project is the family of podcasts that I’ve launched, for podcasts that are about “your life–made better.” Check out these great shows: Side Hustle School and Radical Candor and Happier in Hollywood.

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Help! Have Ideas for a Four Tendencies Quiz for Kids?

I’m getting geared up for publication of my book The Four Tendencies — planning the book tour, getting ready to launch the major pre-order bonus (stay tuned for that!), thinking about my book talk.

I can’t wait for the book to go out into the world.

One question keeps coming up, over and over, and I want to sit down to figure out the answer before the book hits the shelves: people keep asking me to write a version of the Four Tendencies Quiz aimed at children — so I’m going to try to draft one.

I need to adapt the existing Quiz so that it uses vocabulary that children understand as well as examples that resonate with them. How do I help determine if a child is an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?

I could really use your suggestions and ideas! What questions should I ask? Related to dealing with school, parents, friends, coaches, classes, pets, anything that’s part of a child’s life.

I asked this question over on my Better appmy free app that’s all about the Four Tendencies — and got such helpful, insightful responses, that I decided to ask here, too.

One difficulty is that an eight-year-old and an eighteen-year-old inhabit very different worlds. I’m not going to write multiple versions of the child test (at least not at this point), so one challenge is to try to be general enough to cover most ages.

For some children, their Tendency is very obvious at a very young age. For other children, it’s much harder to determine. Partly, of course, this is because children aren’t autonomous in the way that adults are. Also, their lives tend to include tremendous amounts of accountability. Nevertheless, in my experience, it’s often possible to see a child’s Tendency.

To spark your thoughts, here are the questions from the adult version:

1. Have you kept a New Year’s resolution where you weren’t accountable to anyone—a resolution like drinking more water or keeping a journal? 

  • Yes. I’m good at keeping New Year’s resolutions, even ones that no one knows about but me.
  • I’m good at keeping resolutions, but I make them whenever the time seems right. I wouldn’t wait for the New Year; January 1 is an arbitrary date.
  • I’ve had trouble with that kind of resolution, so I’m not inclined to make one. When I’m only helping myself, I often struggle.
  • No. I hate to bind myself in any way.


2. Which statement best describes your view about your commitments to yourself?

  • I make a commitment to myself only if I’m convinced that it really makes good sense to do it
  • If someone else is holding me accountable for my commitments, I’ll meet them—but if no one knows except me, I struggle.
  • I bind myself as little as possible.
  • I take my commitments to myself as seriously as my commitments to other people


3. At times, we feel frustrated by ourselves. Are you most likely to feel frustrated because…

  • My constant need for more information exhausts me.
  • As soon as I’m expected to do something, I don’t want to do it.
  • I can take time for other people, but I can’t take time for myself.
  • I can’t take a break from my usual habits, or violate the rules, even when I want to.


4. When you’ve formed a healthy habit in the past, what helped you stick to it?

  • I’m good at sticking to habits, even when no one else cares.
  • Doing a lot of research and customization about why and how I might keep that habit.
  • I could stick to a good habit only when I was answerable to someone else.
  • Usually, I don’t choose to bind myself in advance.


5. If people complain about your behavior, you’d be least surprised to hear them say…

  • You stick to your good habits, ones that matter only to you, even when it’s inconvenient for someone else.
  • You ask too many questions.
  • You’re good at taking the time when others ask you to do something, but you’re not good at taking time for yourself.
  • You only do what you want to do, when you want to do it.


6. Which description suits you best?

  • Puts others—clients, family, neighbors, co-workers—first
  • Disciplined—sometimes, even when it doesn’t make sense
  • Refuses to be bossed by others
  • Asks necessary questions


7. People get frustrated with me, because if they ask me to do something, I’m less likely to do it (even if they’re a boss or client).

  • Tend to agree
  • Neutral
  • Tend to disagree


8. I do what I think makes the most sense, according to my judgment, even if that means ignoring the rules or other people’s expectations.

  • Tend to agree
  • Neutral
  • Tend to disagree


9. Commitments to others should never be broken, but commitments to myself can be broken.

  • Tend to agree
  • Neutral
  • Tend to disagree


10. Sometimes I won’t do something I want to do, because someone wants me to do it.

  • Tend to agree
  • Neutral
  • Tend to disagree


11. I’ve sometimes described myself as a people-pleaser.

  • Tend to agree
  • Neutral
  • Tend to disagree


12. I don’t mind breaking rules or violating convention–I often enjoy it.

  • Tend to agree
  • Neutral
  • Tend to disagree


13. I question the validity of the Four Tendencies framework.

  • Tend to agree
  • Neutral
  • Tend to disagree

But a new question for the kid’s version doesn’t need to inspired by this existing Quiz. It could be something completely different, as long as it shows the differences among the Four Tendencies.

I appreciate any thoughts or examples you might have!

A Little Happier: Sometimes, You Feel Regret Either Way.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I love examples of someone knowing the right thing to say.

In this case, a doctor said the right thing to my friend — when she admitted to feeling a little let down by the news that she was going to give birth to a boy. She’d been so excited to be having a baby, boy or girl, but when she heard the news, she felt a bit sorry.

He told her, “Of course you feel this way. Before you knew if you were having a boy or a girl, you could look forward to both experiences. Now you know that you’re having a boy. It’s natural to feel regret about the future that’s not going to happen.

I thought that was such a wise observation. Sometimes in life, going down one path means abandoning another path. And it’s natural to feel regret about the path not taken. That doesn’t mean you’re unhappy with the path you’re on.

This mini-episode is brought to you by Prudential. Their new podcast Everyday Bravery brings inspiring and personal stories about finding the courage that brings out the best in us. Go to EverydayBravery.com or subscribe everywhere podcasts are available.

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“The Colour of the Leaves in Autumn Would Be Nothing Without the Feeling that Accompanies It.”

“The colour of the leaves in autumn would be nothing without the feeling that accompanies it.”

–William Hazlitt, “The Indian Jugglers” in Selected Writings

My color obsession continues. I see colors — and references to colors — everywhere. What a beautiful preoccupation!

Is there a place in your life where seeing a certain set of colors inspires certain emotions? For instance, the colors of the ocean, or the color scheme of your childhood kitchen?



Do You Face These Common Problems in Happiness and Habits? Here’s Your Answer!

For years, I’ve been reading, writing, and talking to people about their happiness and good habits. My preoccupation is: how can we make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative?

The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, Better Than Before, and now The Four Tendencies — all, in their own way, address this fundamental question.

And as I’ve talked to people, certain challenges keep coming up, over and over.

For years, I was so puzzled by them, I couldn’t stop thinking about them and trying to figure out the answers. Perhaps some sound familiar to you:

  • People can rely on me, so why can’t I rely on myself?
  • Why do people tell me that I ask too many questions?
  • How do I work with someone who refuses to do what I ask?
  • Why do people just do whatever they’re told to do, like lemmings, without demanding good reasons?
  • Why can’t I make myself do anything?
  • Why won’t you change what you’re doing, after I’ve explained the serious consequences of failing to change?
  • Why do people keep telling me I’m uptight?
  • Why do I have writer’s block?
  • How can I deal with someone who keeps telling me what to do?
  • How can I stop my teenager from dropping out of school?
  • How can my team become more effective, with less wasted time and conflict?
  • Why is everything an argument with my child?
  • I’m deeply committed to doing this thing (working on a novel, exercising regularly), so why can’t I do it?
  • Why can’t other people just get their own s!$* done?
  • Why can’t I convince my patients to take their prescriptions?
  • Why does my mother keep emailing me articles?
  • My child is so smart and does well on tests, so why does he refuse to do his homework?
  • How can I help my spouse to lose weight? To exercise?
  • Why can’t I start my side hustle?
  • Why am I always the one asked to pick up the extra work around here?
  • Why is it taking me so long to make this decision?
  • Why can’t my sweetheart be more spontaneous?
  • Why does this person refuse to answer my questions?
  • Why do my co-workers refuse to act with common courtesy — how hard is it to put your mug in the office dishwasher?
  • Why can’t I keep my promises to myself?
  • Why does this employee keep challenging every decision I make?
  • My spouse will do anything to help a client, so why can’t I get any help?

Why You Act, Why You Don’t

Perhaps it seems unlikely, but it’s true — the Four Tendencies framework sheds light on all these questions.

With every single one of these questions, I have an answer that I think can help, using the Four Tendencies.

To take just one example, I received this email about a teacher who used her knowledge of the Four Tendencies to change her way of working with a Rebel — in a way that allowed that Rebel to succeed:

I’m a teacher at our local county jail, mostly GED and high school diploma courses. Recently I had a student who was getting in her own way—arguing with the guards and not completing assignments. I believed her when she said that she really wanted to get her GED—yet she wasn’t making progress.

It dawned on me that she is a Rebel. I shared your theory with her, and it really helped her see herself in a new, more positive way. I stopped asking her to do homework and let her decide each day how she wanted to study: computer software, group lesson, independently, or not at all. As I write this, she has passed five of the five tests, and thus completed her high school equivalency.

When you know if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, you understand yourself much better — why you act, why you don’t act, why you feel the way you do.

And as the example above demonstrates, when you understand other people’s Tendencies, you gain great perspective on why they act, why they don’t act, and why they feel the way they do.

To a degree that astonishes me, simple tweaks in language and circumstances can allow people to do a much better job in dealing with themselves and others.

I certainly use the Tendencies myself. I’m married to a Questioner, and I’ve learned that I always need to explain the reason if I want him to do something. Even just yesterday. I was filling out a tiresome form that asked for his work address. I called him and asked, “What’s your work address?” He answered, “Why ?”

Now, if he’d asked me a similar question, I would’ve just answered. I wouldn’t ask why. But my husband wasn’t going to meet even the smallest expectation — tell me your work address — without knowing why.

That used to bug me. Why wouldn’t he just do what I asked? Why did he slow down the process? Now I don’t get annoyed with him, because I understand his nature.

Managing yourself, and others, is much easier when you know what to do — and why.


Want to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Take the quick Quiz here.

Want to learn more about the framework? Order my book The Four Tendencies. All is revealed!

Want to talk about the Four Tendencies with other people? Join the discussion on my free Better app.