Podcast 32: Why Elizabeth and I Raise the Bar, the Surprising Downside of Teasing–and Please Comment on Four Tendencies.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: I talk about Barnaby, our new dog! (As promised, here’s a picture of Barnaby with our producer, Henry Molofsky.) And a shout-out to our super-fans in Omaha, Nebraska.

Also, you’ll hear us talk about our new (and we hope improved, though Elizabeth is doubtful) way of referring to previous episodes, so that you can easily find them here on my site. That’s happiercast.com/32 (or the number of whatever episode you’re looking for).

Try This at Home: Raise the bar (yes, you remember that right, in episode 29 we suggested lowering the bar; the opposite of a profound truth is also true). What works for you — lowering or raising the bar, or both?

Happiness Stumbling Block: It turns out that friendly teasing is often not perceived to be as friendly as the teaser intends.  How about you? Have you ever had a less-than-positive experience with teasing?

We refer to two books: Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself by David Dunning and Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson et al.

Listener Questioner: In our Very Special Episode 30, we had a very special guest — my daughter Eliza. She asked, “Do you have advice for a sixteen-year-old like me?” The answers are so thought-provoking and helpful. We play some highlights.

Gretchen’s Demerit: I don’t reassure Jamie when he needs reassurance.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth, to her surprise, loves attending Chapel at her son Jack’s school.

Call for comments, questions, observations! We’re going to spend four weeks talking about my Four Tendencies framework for human nature. So we want to hear from you:


Please, send in our questions and comments by voicemail, email, etc. What’s your experience with yourself, spouse, child, patient, colleague, boss, friend, etc? We’re dying to hear from you.

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We love hearing from listeners

Tell us — have you raised the bar for yourself, in a way that made you happier? And what about teasing? — we’d love to hear your experiences, good or bad, with teasing.

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HAPPIER listening!

  • Amanda Simpson

    I’m very curious about how to use the Four Tendencies to fine tune my parenting. How can you use the tendencies to parent different kinds of children peacefully and happily?

  • Mimi Gregor

    Raising the bar makes me feel happier than lowering the bar. When I lower it, I feel that I’m selling myself short and not living up to my potential. However, when I raise it, even though it may cause a bit of anxiety in the moment, I feel much happier when I bask in the results. For instance, I feel happier after I put together a fabulous meal from scratch, even though I may have been a bit stressed out while I was doing the actual cooking. I feel happier when I take the time to make myself look presentable every day, and that outweighs getting a little extra sleep or a little extra computer time. When I make the effort, I am telling myself that I am worth the effort it takes, and that makes me feel happier.

    Regarding the four tendencies, I would like to know quick ways to assess which tendency a person falls into upon meeting a person for the first time. For instance, in the case of a job interview or meeting a possible love interest, it could mean the difference between getting what you want and not getting it.

    As a Questioner, may I suggest the “motto” for this tendency be “Why?” Ever since I was little, any time someone told me I must do something, or if they exhorted some activity or teaching that didn’t make sense to me, I would always ask “Why?”, to their constant consternation.

  • Dianne Ochiltree

    Lowering the bar on expectation and raising the bar on personal effort seems to work out better for me.

  • Msconduct

    Re teasing: this is an issue that’s very modulated by culture. The advice the teasing expert gives is no doubt a great idea for the US, but it wouldn’t work in the UK. Teasing is an absolute cornerstone of British culture, and the more you like someone, the ruder you are to them (and they are rude back). If you don’t tease someone there, you would be perceived as holding them at arm’s length. This often shocks Americans in the UK, as Americans have a much more polite discourse in general. I have to watch out for this really carefully when I visit the US – I have to keep reminding myself not to tease anyone as they are not going to receive it in the spirit it’s intended.

    • zil

      This is such a good point. I think there are other cultures that do a lot more teasing as well (and I have lots of British cousins so I agree with you on that one) – I grew up in a Jewish/Italian neighborhood in NYC, and for sure there’s a ton of teasing and sarcasm that is just part of the nature of discourse there. I think it’s worth considering how it lands on other people, but I think about my kids and they have just had to grow a bit of a thick skin, it’s how we relate and not everyone appreciates it, so I like the reminder but think your point about different cultures and norms within them is excellent.

    • Jamie

      While it is true that this can be different in different cultures, my British husband Despises teasing. It may be more common in the UK (or other places, like the NYC neighborhoods referred to below), but people certainly don’t universally enjoy it. I believe that as a teaser, one should always consider how it is being received by the person being teased, even if it may be more culturally acceptable where the teaser lives.

  • Knowles Harper

    I’ve meant to write after so many episodes but always forget to do it when I get home. Thanks for all of your interesting episodes.
    I just listened to the teasing segment and it really hit home. My husband and I were both raised in teasing families, but I don’t like it! When I told him years ago that his teasing was keeping me from sharing my thoughts and activities with him, he quit! I’ve tried some things he thought were kooky, such as Nia and EFT, and were admittedly easy targets for teasing, so it was easier just to keep them to myself. Since the teasing truce, I feel more comfortable telling him about what I’m thinking, doing and feeling. I hope all of the teasers out there will think about the possibility that they are driving a wedge between themselves and their loved ones.

  • Cynthia

    I hate teasing, probably because I was the youngest in a large household. But at 56 I still hate it, and especially hate to see children being teased. I think teasing is nearly always a tool of superiority: older over younger, male over female, bigger over smaller. It is entertainment for one person at another’s expense. It is not nurturing or kind in any way. The one exception would be mutual teasing, which I think is rare. Teasers need some kind of secret handshake to identify each other so they can indulge away without diminishing the happiness of others. “Lighten up” just seems like a cheap justification. One could apply that phrase to victims of all kinds of situations. Do we want thicker-skinned people or more compassionate ones? Thanks for covering this topic.

  • fran.fabrizio@gmail.com

    This surely won’t be the most insightful comment here, but I just wanted to note that the punctuation in a web address is a slash ( / , also called “forward slash” but always just “slash” when talking about web addresses), not backslash ( ). The software developer in me cringed a little bit every time I heard that while listening this morning. 🙂

    On a less pedantic note, so happy I discovered this podcast, i has kept me good company during my bike commutes this summer. Thanks!

    • Varia

      I was going to make this comment too, glad I’m not the only pedantic one 😉

  • Caro

    I am excited to hear we will have episodes about the 4 tendencies. I think we all have a little bit of each of the tendencies in us depending on a lot of aspects and situations, but one is our true self or comes up more. I know I am a rebel and it is struggling to adapt to a lot of situations because I really wanna do whatever I want to whenever I want to and I can’t wait to listen to have tips! And I want to listen to other tendencies too so that I can help my loved ones with some of their problems… for instance I am surrounded with a lot of obligers and it pains me to see them doing things for people who ask too much of them. Thank you, very interesting episodes to come!!

    • Caro

      As a rebel, I don’t know why but at first hand I always want to do/think/answer the complete opposite of what is asked/said. Just because. I don’t know why. I feel it deeply and know that there has to have a way people do things and rules so it doesn’t change a thing in the end.

  • kbparker

    Hi Gretchen.

    Firstly, I’m loving the podcast. Been years since I’ve followed one, but with a new routine started recently with a new job and a happiness project underway, I’ve found yours works well for car trips or walks. I’m now looking for other ones which are interesting – has there been a discussion on this on the blog?

    Secondly, I was really interested in the lower the bar and raise the bar discussions, especially Elizabeth’s comment about wanting to cook more. I’m not sure I agree that she’d cook if she enjoyed it. I definitely like to cook, but have been struggling to cook recently, which is now really important as I work on a new routine.
    – I’ve raised the bar by insisting that I have to cook and can only order home delivery once a week. I know I can cook, I have 30 mins most evenings unless I’m out and actually enjoy fresh healthy food. This isn’t an unreasonable expectation for me!
    – I’ve also raised the bar by insisting that I take lunch to work ‘most of the time’ – it saves money, I usually prefer my food to the cafe at work and it also encourages cooking of meals which can be brought to work or buying simple things like a roll and ham.
    – But I’ve lowered the bar by allowing myself to cook really simple – how about just a piece of lean protein (steak, frozen fish, burger patty) and 2 veges (which can be tinned or reheated or frozen). Yes, its meat and 2 vege, but there’s a reason why our Mums relied on it. . A spoon of store bought salsa, hummus or tahini can make it more interesting. Its still dinner! Sometimes I cook something more interesting vege wise for one of them…or else just make sure I vary them (did you know mashed potato reheats well with a splash of water before it goes in the microwave?)
    – I’ve also lowered the bar by limiting complicated things like dressings – yes, I could make the tahini or a nice salad dressing, but a handful of spinach on a plate with a chopped tomato on it can be a salad. It can also be repeated – lowering the bar again on variety…its a meal even if its the same meal i ate two nights ago.
    – I’ve found its inspired me to want to cook a bit more and a few more interesting things and has encouraged me back into some very vague meal planning and a few easier one pot recipes as an alternative to meat and 2 vege – think pilafs, think pasta bakes, think easy curries (bought paste of course), think a grain salad as a replacement for the 2 vege and tomorrow’s lunch.
    – I’ve also reactivated a habit which I used to do when I cooked, which was tidy up as soon as I can after dinner. Its really easy if you rinse things in the kitchen as you go, Wipe that bench or put those vege ends in the compost, while you watch the steak simmer or stir the onion. Then put the pan on to soak before you sit down to eat. Then you just need to put a few dishes in the dishwasher and wash out a pot or two.

    I was also going to make a comment / ask a question about the four tendencies, which I’ve followed with interest for a while. I’m a questioner. I was talking recently with a friend about our difficulties communicating with our brothers – and she was talking about different personality types. At the time, I didn’t think about the four tendencies. But thinking about it, I think he’s an obliger. This can make communication difficult. I’ll ask him why he’s decided to do something or want to talk about whether I think a rule or a process is a good idea or not.. He can then get defensive and doesn’t like having to explain why he does something a certain way or believes a certain thing. So my question is what is the best way to communicate with each type? What is the best way to engage them and to ask them to do something? And I guess also what are some clues to look for in other people to work out what their tendency is?



  • kbparker

    Oh yes, teasing (just seen the comment below). I also meant to comment on that! I also dislike it, and also maybe as a youngest child. It never makes me feel loved or appreciate, just defensive and belittled. (Again that older brother)

    I read somewhere once that you should never tease people about things they are ashamed of or embarassed about, only things they like about themselves. Then its positive teasing and not hurtful.

  • daniela

    Hi, I wanted to ask if you have some advice for someone who lost someone special recently. Good news: I managed to make my bed even on that terrible day, so that’s something.
    Also, my advice for Eliza: be patient with your parents and don’t let a disagreement push you away from them even for a day. It’s unbelievable how many years you can lose for something silly.
    Thanks guys, I love the podcast.

  • Lori McKee

    Love your show, books, blog – everything.

    Except this new podcast naming scheme (whatever you call it). I’m with Elizabeth – I think it’s MORE complicated. For one thing, you have to know the number you’re looking for . I’m usually out walking when I listen to your show – do I have to stop and write down the number to find it later? 🙂

    I think you do have a place on your blog where we can look for the podcasts – right? (Duh – I think I just went there to get here). I think that’s better. I did try the new name method, from memory and got it wrong. I forgot the “com”. I’m pretty computer literate so I expect a lot of people will struggle with this. I’d be curious to hear how it goes.

    Again – I love your show and I think I’ll play the part about teasing – to my husband – he’s from a teasing family and has a thick skin. I’m not and I don’t. 🙂

  • Amy Zarndt

    Wait! Elizabeth can’t just say she likes going to “chapel” at the school and then doesn’t explain what they do there! She says it’s peaceful, but then Gretchen asks if she’d feel the same way if it was called assembly. Huh? I don’t imagine those two things could be interchangeable! Please explain!

  • toby

    Out of the two flavors of questioner, I’m a questioner with rebel inclinations. It’s pretty tough! I feel like I have the downsides of both questioners and rebels – I’m constantly asking questions, I have to research constantly, and I find that as soon as I verbally commit to something (for instance, making an announcement on social networking about my workout goals, or trying to schedule a habit) I don’t want to do it!

    For the questioner episode, I would appreciate ANY advice on how to form good habits as this type. Help!

  • Molly Sharp

    I couldn’t agree more about teasing! As the only girl (I have 3 brothers), I got teased a lot. Consequently, I still struggle on putting my thoughts and opinions out into the world and really showing who I am because it doesn’t always feel safe! I think 90% of the interactions with my brothers were of the teasing and joshing variety, so this style of communication was part of my repertoire. As a young adult in the world, a friend called me on it and said “Hey, say things that are helpful, not hurtful.” I so glad he said that, because it made me aware of how shallow and hurtful this style is.

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  • I like to raise the bar on doing the limbo.

  • Jim

    So I’m an Obliger married to one of those very difficult (!) upholders. There are big advantages to being married to an upholder; stuff gets done. But you do have to listen to her say, “Why can’t people do their own sh…?” over and over and over. It is a challenge being an Obliger, too. There are a lot of things I’d like to get done but somehow I always jump to the latest and loudest and bag (by default) some longer term, less urgent, but important things. I’m also somewhat ashamed to say that from time to time my obligation to my wife doesn’t always get done!

  • Lisa Ann

    How super relevant!! I was doing my task of raising the bar while listening to this podcast. After a weekend where I allowed my anxiety to get the best of me, I decided I needed to make a change, and this ended up being through adding a work-out routine to my week (which I was doing while listening, you guys are good background to my core workout) and by accepting a new part time job. Thanks for your consistent advice, even if it is something I already came to myself, its nice to have some backup for my ideas.

  • Rosalie

    I’m commenting to show a bit of my struggle with the four tendencies framework. Ever since I first took note of this theory, I’ve
    been puzzled by my own reaction. I found that I identified as both a
    questioner and an obliger. However, looking at the diagram, it seems
    hardly possible to combine these two profiles with each other, since
    they are nearly opposite: the questioner only holds obligations towards
    themselves, and the obliger only holds obligations towards others.

    did some thinking, and came up with my personal solution as to why I
    seem to fall in these irreconcilable categories. As to my “true” nature,
    I think I am a questioner. The obliger-esque tendencies stem from my
    personal self-esteem issues. I am still skeptical when confronted with
    expectations presented by others, but I value their worth and arguments
    higher than my own, and therefore end up doing more for others and less
    for myself. Since I do not have confidence in myself, I end up
    researching options in-depth and suffer from analysis paralysis.

    Does anybody else recognize problems like mine? Do you have alternate theories on what is going on, or have experience on how to deal with this? I’m interested in hearing other’s reactions!

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  • Abby

    Teasing is so bad, especially of children! I’m 78 and still cringe when I remember my uncle’s taunts, ‘too shy, too much hair, too skinny, etc.’ I dreaded each encounter because of his remarks that were always so funnily put and made everyone laugh.

    Thank you for your new way of accessing the podcasts, much easier now, I love them!

  • Erin

    Dear Gretchen,

    I love it when I find connections among ideas that different people share. I listened to this podcast this morning. When you and Elizabeth talked about “raising the bar,” I felt a little deflated because there’s so to do already, and quite honestly, the notion of trying to reach even further scares me.

    But, I came across this piece of advice from Jillian Michaels:

    “The best advice I can give is to always remain passionate in what you do and remember that you always have more to give.I often tell my clients that in order to make a life change…you have to first ask yourself, ‘How is my life going to be better if I do this?'”

    The same applies to anyone looking to excel in their professional careers. Always look to the end goal, and don’t be afraid of achieving. Continually expect more from yourself, because chances are you have more to give!”

    I didn’t quite understand how to relate to myself what you and Elizabeth said about raising the bar for things that are true to who you are, not what you aspire to be. But asking the question “How is my life going to be better if I do this” is the question that I need in order to figure out whether I’m raising the bar for something that is true to me and what I want.