Search Results for: four tendencies

Why I Named the Four Tendencies the “Four Tendencies.”

Since college, when I first read it, I’ve been haunted by an observation by Freud, where he notes that the names of the three Goddesses of Fate mean “the accidental within the decrees of destiny,” “the inevitable,” and “the fateful tendencies each one of us brings into the world.

— Sigmund Freud, The Freud Reader, “The Theme of the Three Caskets.”

When I read this, it seemed perfectly to distill the three threads of fate.

The fateful tendencies each one of us brings into the world. Years later, when I was trying to figure out what to name the categories that I’d identified as part of human nature — Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, Rebel — I thought back on that passage. So I named my framework the “Four Tendencies.”

Calling them “fateful” struck me as slightly melodramatic. What do you think? Would that have been a terrific name, or too much?

A Four Tendencies Dilemma: What Would You Do with the Office Coffee Mug?

Have  I mentioned that my book The Four Tendencies is coming out in September? Oh right, I think I have.

Well, I’m gearing up for my book tour, and thinking about my book talk.

I’m considering opening my talk by describing a familiar situation that illustrates how differently the Four Tendencies see the world. What do you think of that idea? Consider this scenario:

“What Would You Do with the Office Coffee Mug?”

Imagine that you’ve been hired to work in sales in a small-to-medium sized office.

There’s an office kitchen with a sink, fridge, dishwasher, and a cabinet stocked with office mugs.

Although you haven’t met the night cleaning staff, you know that a crew comes in every night to vacuum, dust, empty the trash cans, handle the recycling, clean the kitchen, and wash and put the office mugs back in the cupboard.

There’s no sign in the office telling you what to do with your dirty mugs, and no one has mentioned the office etiquette to you.

The first time you used a mug and were deciding what to do with it, what idea most likely ran through your mind?

  1. My job is to do sales, and the cleaning staff’s job is to clean.
  2. It’s more efficient for the cleaning staff to spend the time cleaning, and for me to spend my time making sales.
  3. The cleaning staff shouldn’t have to clean up after me.
  4. No one can tell me what to do with my mug.

To be sure, your Tendency is just one narrow aspect of your character; two people of the same Tendency might behave differently depending on how considerate they are, how ambitious they are, how busy, how extroverted, and a million other things.

And of course your life experience influences your behavior. You might automatically deal with your mug  the way you dealt with mugs at your last job.

Nevertheless, I think there are some very general patterns, if you identified with those reactions:

1-likely to be an Upholder

2-likely to be a Questioner

3-likely to be an Obliger

4-likely to be a Rebel

However, it’s crucial to note that you can’t judge people’s Tendencies from their actions; you have to know what they’re thinking.

And you often can’t predict people’s actions from knowing their Tendency, because so many factors come into play.

For instance, in contrast to the predictions listed above, a Rebel might choose to clean a mug, with the thought, “It’s important to me to be a thoughtful member of this office.” An Obliger might not clean a mug, with the thought, “This office is dangerously close to failure. I need to spend every minute I possibly can making sales, or everyone will lose their jobs.” A Questioner might clean a mug, with the thought, “If clients come in and see a sink full of dirty dishes, they may assume we run a sloppy operation. The risk of losing sales is a very good reason for me to clean my dishes.”

Given the many different perspectives that can arise, even within the same Tendency, it’s easy how often people disagree. An Obliger might think, “I can’t believe that other people show so little common courtesy for others.”  A Questioner might think, “If you want to clean the mugs, fine, but don’t expect me to help. I’m here to make sales!” An Upholder might think, “I wouldn’t empty the trash cans, and I wouldn’t vacuum, and I don’t feel like I have to wash the dishes, those aren’t my jobs.” A Rebel thinks, “Why does everyone keep talking about the mugs? Sheesh, do whatever you want, that’s what I do.”

Studying the Four Tendencies has shown me that very often, there’s no single correct way to view a situation.

Want to learn your Tendency? Take the quiz here. (Hundreds of thousands of people have taken it.)

Want to join a lively discussion about the Four Tendencies? Join the Better app to ask questions, offer strategies and insights, and join Accountability Groups.

Want to get free access to my five videos about how to apply the Four Tendencies? To get the pre-order bonus, you can find details here. You’ll get the overview video as well as subject videos on using the Four Tendencies at work, with spouses and sweethearts, with children and students, and in health-care settings.  Free now; note after the book comes out, there will be a (fairly hefty) charge for the video series.

Want to Read Books that Show Examples of the Four Tendencies? Revealed!

Revealed! My book club recommendations for August.

Newsflash: I’ve decided to change the way I suggest books for this book club. Instead of suggesting three books each month (one about happiness and human nature; one work of children’s literature; one eccentric pick), I’m going to provide a reading list once a quarter, on a particular subject.

For instance, I’m looking forward to providing a list of some of my favorite books about color, favorite memoirs, favorite books about other people’s happiness projects…the list goes on. If you’d like to suggest a theme for a list, just email me.

For instance, I had so much fun compiling my list of my 81 favorite works of children’s and young-adult literature. These lists will be shorter than than list, however.

You can still get the book club suggestions by email, by signing up for my “book club” here.

As I may have mentioned, my book The Four Tendencies hits the shelves on September 12.

So, to get you in the mood to read about the Four Tendencies, or if you can’t wait until September to immerse yourself in the subject, here’s a list of books that illustrate the Four Tendencies.

It’s important to note that we can never judge someone’s Tendency from his or her actions; we must know the reasons behind that action. For instance, Questioner refuses to do something because “why should I?” while a Rebel refuses because “you can’t tell me what to do.”

Nevertheless, I’ve included some memoirs by people who were close to someone of a certain Tendency. Such accounts aren’t as dispositive as having an account by that person himself or herself, but I do think that sometimes, a person gets to know someone well enough over time that a portrait really does capture a Tendency.

Also, even if you’re not interested in reading about the Four Tendencies, each one of these books is outstanding. So I recommend them wholly apart from their relevance to the Four Tendencies.


The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling — in this legendary series, Hermione Granger is such an Upholder, with the strengths and weakness of that Tendency.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik — Will Laurence is an Upholder, and Temeraire is a Questioner. It’s interesting to see how the two Tendencies work together. Warning: it’s a book with dragons, which is either your kind of thing, or not at all your kind of thing.


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson — a fascinating portrait of a QUESTIONER/Rebel. (As I explain in The Four Tendencies, people often “tip” in the direction of a Tendency that overlaps with their core Tendency. So while my husband is an example of a QUESTIONER/Upholder, Jobs is a QUESTIONER/Rebel.)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronteon the very first page of this classic novel, Jane’s hateful aunt Mrs. Reed literally calls her “Questioner” to explain why she finds Jane annoying: “Jane, I don’t like cavillers or questioners.” (I had to look up “caviller”; it means “one who quibbles.”)


Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi — a brilliant self-portrait of a textbook Obliger who is also a tennis star.

Here But Not Here: My Life with William Shawn and the New Yorker by Lillian Ross — it’s not Ross, but Shawn, who is convincingly portrayed as an Obliger.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn — an engaging memoir about the challenges of marriage by an Obliger married to a Questioner.


Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot — Gilot’s fascinating portrayal of her life with Picasso shows his Rebel Tendency. (The image above shows Gilot and Picasso at the beach.)

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen — Lady Bertram is a thorough Rebel; she’s also a good example of how Rebels may appear proper and conventional — until closer consideration reveals that they do only what they want to do.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton — I wrote a giant portrait of Merton as a Rebel, which got cut down to a few paragraphs in The Four Tendencies. He fascinates me. Rebel as Cistercian monk!

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham — in this brand-new memoir, the author writes about the challenges when her daughter grows sick and needs a bone-marrow transplant. Along the way, Harpham’s thoughts and actions show her Rebel Tendency.

I’m always looking for books (and movies, television shows, street signs, anything!) that illustrate the Four Tendencies. So if you have any to suggest, please send them my way.

Happy August, and happy reading! I do love summer reading.

Podcast 128: Connect with TV, Conquering the Snooze Alarm–and Is It Possible to be a Mix of the Four Tendencies?

Update: Elizabeth is excited because tomorrow on the “Happier in Hollywood” podcast, she and Sarah talk about a very common happiness stumbling block: self-criticism. When is it helpful, and when is it toxic?

I’m excited because my new book, The Four Tendencies, hits the shelves in just 41 days. So close, and yet so far!

Pre-orders give a big boost to a book, so to thank readers who pre-order, I worked with a terrific production team to create a series of videos about the Four Tendencies. After the book goes on sale, I’ll charge for these videos, but until then, you can get access to them for free if you pre-order. Find all the info here. There’s an overview video, then subject videos on using the Four Tendencies at work, with spouses and sweethearts, with children and students, and in health-care settings.

Try This at Home:  Connect through television. On episode 9 of “Happier in Hollywood,” the weekly “Hollywood Hack” was to “watch the TV shows your boss watches” to create an easy way to connect.

But TV is a great way to connect not only with a boss, but also with co-workers, teenagers, grandparents…many relationships. Have you ever used TV to strengthen an important relationship?

I quote from Tyler Cowen’s Discover You Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Your Motivate Your Dentist.

Happiness Hack: Put your alarm device across the room, so you have to get out of bed in order to turn off the noise.

Four Tendencies Tip: If you want to take the Quiz, to see whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, it’s here.

People often suggest that they think they’re a mix of Tendencies, but I argue that just about every one of us does fall into one core Tendency.

That said, the Tendencies do overlap, and it’s possible to “tip” to a Tendency that overlaps with your core Tendency. For instance, I’m an UPHOLDER/Questioner, and Elizabeth is an OBLIGER/Questioner.

Listener Question: Debbie asks how to figure out if she truly finds it fun to pursue the outdoor activities that her husband loves.

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth has started playing a new app game, Two Dots.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I managed to stay (reasonably) calm while Eliza and I were shopping for some things she needs for college.

This Week’s Free Resources:

  1. To get the pre-order bonus, you can find info here, or at You’ll get the overview video as well as subject videos on using the Four Tendencies at work, with spouses and sweethearts, with children and students, and in health-care settings.  Free now; after the book comes out, there will be a charge for the video series.
  2.  I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

If you want easy instructions about how to rate or review the podcast, look here. Remember, it really helps us if you do rate or review the podcast — it helps other listeners discover us.

As I mentioned above, I do weekly live videos on my Facebook Page to continue the conversation from the podcast — usually on Tuesdays at 3:00 pm ET. To join the conversation, check the schedule.

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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1pixHappier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #128

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Pre-order “The Four Tendencies” and Get Access Now to the 5-Part Video Series

I have exciting news (at least, it’s exciting for me).

To thank readers who pre-order The Four Tendencies, I worked with a great production team to create a 5-part videos series. Together, these five videos provide a great overview of how to apply the framework: the first video explains the framework, and four subject videos explain how to apply the Four Tendencies at work, in a relationship, with a child or student, and in health-care.

After the book comes out, I’ll start charging for this video series. If you’d like to watch the videos for free, pre-order the book now.

I wanted to create a bonus for loyal readers, and also, I keep hearing from readers and listeners who have questions—and who need an answer right away, before the book comes out!

These videos will help you to start harnessing the power of the Four Tendencies immediately. I explain how to harness the strengths—and manage the weaknesses—of each Tendency, whether at work, in relationships, as a parent or teacher, or as a health-care provider. 

Of course, the book goes into issues in much greater depth, but instant gratification has its own satisfactions. If you pre-order, you get immediate access to all five videos.

What’s struck me, as I’ve talked endlessly to people about the Four Tendencies, is how broadly applicable they are. People use the framework in every stage of life, and in so many different roles. And the four types are so obvious. Once you know the framework, you spot the Four Tendencies all around you.

So… Upholders, do your thing.

Questioners, it’s more efficient and cost-effective to pre-order now—you get the book immediately upon publication, and you get valuable video information for free, immediately.

Obligers, you really do help me if you pre-order now; it gives a big boost to my book. And I’ll know if you pre-order! To show how much I appreciate your taking the time and energy to help me, I’ve created a free bonus for you with these five videos.

Rebels, it’s up to you. If you have the time and the inclination, if you think it would be interesting, or would help you do what you want, you can pre-order and get the videos. Or you can decide later, and pay to watch the videos. Or ignore the videos, maybe you don’t like to watch videos. Whatever works for you.

Click here to pre-order and get access the bonus video series