Podcast 35: A Close Look at the Upholder Personality; Are You Like Gretchen and Hermione?

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.” (Remember, if you’d like to get an email alert every time we release a new episode, you can sign up here.)

Update:  Elizabeth is struggling with the novel-writing.

Today is the first in the series of four episodes that we’re devoting to the Four Tendencies. Today, Upholder! That’s my Tendency.

Check out the photo — that’s me wearing the Upholder t-shirt that Elizabeth gave me for Christmas last year. Perfect.

Try This at Home: Take the Four Tendencies quiz here. Find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Upholders: Think Hermione Granger! Ah, Elizabeth knows me, and consequently the strengths and weaknesses of Upholders, very well.

Striking Pattern of Upholders: My fellow Upholders, do you also experience “tightening,” where our expectations for ourselves get tighter?

Our producer Henry is an Upholder, and he weighs in on his own experience with tightening.

Listener Questions: “How can Upholders balance interior and exterior expectations?” “I live with an Upholder, and find it impossible to meet his expectations.”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth missed the blood moon. So did I, by the way.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: I love this Funny or Die video of Jewel, where she goes in disguise to a karaoke bar.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Episode #35

Call for comments, questions, observations!

We’re spending four weeks talking about my Four Tendencies framework for human nature. We’ve already had many thought-provoking responses, but we want more.


Please, send in your questions and comments by voicemail, email, etc.


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Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HAPPIER listening!

  • Caro

    Great episode!!! I went outside and enjoyed the blood moon big deal :D! Loved the part where you talked about Jewel; She is such an inspiration.

  • Chloe

    I’m an obliger and would love to hear you discuss additional strategies for holding myself accountable. A friend and I tried to hold one another accountable through weekly calls, but that often didn’t feel compelling when I was choosing not to do what I said I would. Lately it feels like I am great at planning habits to change or goal to pursue but then fail to execute. Are there any other strategies you recommend?

  • I loved the show today! Of course I love most all of your shows and can’t wait for you two to go to doing two episodes per week. I know, I know, but one isn’t enough. Ok, so today’s talk about Upholders helped me a lot! I took the quiz and I was told I’m an Upholder. However, I debated this until I realized that I’m probably working against my nature by not being regimented. I keep attempting to be a “go with the flow” type person. But, I kinda, really, definitely hate that! But I feel like that’s what I’m “supposed” to be because I’m an actor and we performing artists have very little control over constancy. My partner is also “artsy” and a very go with the flow person. I’ve tried my darnedest to take on her lackadaisical behavior. And again… I end up emotional, anxious and sometimes depressed. I love making a detailed list of my days task. I love checking the boxes. I love looking back over the day and realizing that I did at least 18 of my 20 items. I usually leave 2 undone as not to seem nuts. LOL!

    Gretchen, I’m so grateful for you and the work you’re doing. I can here the structure and discipline in your voice via the podcast. Planning and discipline does seem to be freedom and therefore enables a fun that can be accepted and handled in the true spirit it was intended. When I was in Conservatory for acting we were trained to understand that building a strong foundation rooted in regiment and craft will ultimately foster great freedom. I finally get why even at 18 years old that resonated so clearly. And now as a 41 year old mother of a two (4.5 & 12) I can accept my Upholder self and make the necessary shifts to enjoy life more and make my family less crazy!

  • Lisette Charlotte Muratore

    Possible strategy of convenience for Elizabeth’s novel writing, which I used A LOT to get mine done (now I’m editing which is heaps worse to get the time and motivation to do!!)
    Use an app like evernote to write bits and pieces whenever you have a spare moment. I used to do it on the tram into work and home, which added up to about 15-20 mins each way. When I’d get home I’d copy and paste into a Google document. I gave myself a 1000 word goal each day and most days wouldn’t hit it if I wasn’t working on a paragraph or two in spare moments. It’s a bit difficult to begin with, as it can get hard to get in ‘the headspace’, but suddenly doctor waiting rooms and long train delays were something to look forward to 🙂

    • s_ifat

      this is a very good advice. thanks

  • NadiaT

    I’m an Upholder and am moving out of home into a flat next year. This podcast really helped me to identify why it is that I’m so stressed about it – the new location and addition of other people in my living environment, are threats to my routine and habits! I want to make sure I can still get enough sleep, eat healthily, exercise, study, etc. Good to go into this change with my eyes wide open though about the “clean-slate” possibilities. And important for me to remember not to let my tendency to make my life progressively smaller.

  • Marcia at Organising Queen

    I’m an upholder so I can’t wait to listen. My husband says he’s an upholder but he seems more of an obliger to me…maybe next to my extreme upholder-ness 🙂

  • Beck

    Any chance you’ll rethink your use of bolding? It just makes this very difficult to read this as a cohesive piece because nearly every line has bold and makes my brain feel scrambled trying to get through all the writing. I think bullet points will accomplish a lot of what you bold here for, and some of the other bolding just seems superfluous and comes off as “in-your-face” salesy. Just a thought.

  • Siobhan

    I have to vote that Obligers do NOT have T-shirts that advertise our tendency. We have enough problems, we don’t need to make ourselves even easier marks.

  • statmam

    Thanks for recommending the Jewel video. Definitely a happiness booster shot. Adding it to my collection, right between the clip of a dog teaching the baby to crawl and the one where a neighborhood learns to sign.

  • Anne Walsh

    I love your podcast and of course as an Upholder I am going to answer your two questions about what I like about being an Upholder and what are the drawbacks. For me the strengths are that a lot of stuff in my life runs smoothly because I have structures and routines in place. I’m also disciplined which means I get a lot of stuff done. If I say I’ll do something, it’ll get done. Challenges? As someone on your podcast mentioned – getting clear about internal expectations is really important as it’s easy to let them slide if they are not clear. Secondly, I can sometimes feel like the prisoner of expectations. Because I’m reliable I feel that if I don’t honour an expectation (even if for a very good reason) I’m going to get a really hard time – both from myself and others. Choices can quickly escalate to expectations and that can be tough. I also find myself tightening and being judgemental at others who don’t honour their obligations.

  • Brooke

    So I wasn’t totally sure if I would agree with the outcome of the quiz, but after thinking about it, I agree that I may be an obliger. It wasn’t until I read “for Obligers, the key to forming habits is to create external accountability,” that I realized I was definitely an obliger. I run to stay in shape (and though it can be exhausting I enjoy it), but the only way I have found to keep the habit going is to sign up for races, preferably with other people. If I create an external accountability (as in: I’m signed up for this race and the only way I can do it is IF I stay in shape and work out several times a week) my habit of working out 3-5 times a week is SO much easier to follow through with. I want to do it, but I have to create a reason for having to do it.

  • Hi Gretchen and Elizabeth

    Thank you for your lovely podcast. I’ve listened to every episode and I really look forward to each new one coming out.

    In your ‘rebel’ podcast, please discuss living with a rebel. I would love your advice on how to facilitate my 20 year old son, a rebel, or possibly a questioner, who is living at home while he attends university, to do his share of household chores. We have an agreement on what is expected of him. Each time we discuss this, he agrees the expectations are more than reasonable. But he almost never does the agreed chores. We have a rotating roster, so the chores get done the next month by another family member.

    My son is good company and kind. He studies hard. I think he wants to do his share at home but struggles to make himself follow through.


  • Rebecca

    I’ve loved updates from Elizabeth about her novel. I’m trying to write a novel for the first time and it’s so hard! I find it inspiring to know that she’s working toward a similar goal–and struggling with it. I laughed out loud that someone observed that perhaps Elizabeth doesn’t really want to write the novel if it’s that difficult for her to make it a habit. One of my biggest insecurities since starting my first novel and first
    piece of creative writing is that maybe I don’t sincerely want to write it, maybe
    I’m not taking it seriously enough, or maybe I’m not cut out to be a writer. But,
    as Gretchen says, “Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy.” Even though I’m not always in the mood to work on my novel, I’m happier when I consistently
    work on it and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made. I’m happy to be engaging
    in something that’s so challenging, daunting, and scary for me. Thanks for the
    podcast! I look forward to my Wednesday mornings with both of you.

  • Molly

    This was a really interesting episode. Elizabeth is so charming and hilarious. I love her demerit. I would so do that, especially the part about skipping something I meant to do, then seeing (on Facebook, etc.) that everyone else (it seems) had an amazing experience doing the thing I skipped.

  • workingandhappy

    I want to know where I fit then- I was classed as obliger by the quiz. And it makes sense to me. However, when it comes to my husband I tend to resist and resent expectations. So he is the only one that I question. Also, when it comes to personal change I avoid making outer expectations, so that I don’t feel stressed by an external expecation, but steadily work toward this change (accepting the set backs that come, but not giving up). Perhaps I am really a questioner?

    • Vasco Pires

      sounds like questioner behaviour, although I can see your point

  • zilly

    Still think I am a combo – in this case, Obliger and Questioner. Example – at my last checkup, my doc said my Vit D was low and she prescribed megadoses. I came home and spent an hour online reading the research on Vit D and I concluded that it is not clear that megadoses are healthy. Therefore, I threw away the prescription (although I did then go purchase over the counter much smaller doses). On the other hand, I will run myself ragged doing things for everyone in my family, and run out of time to do anything for myself. Or at least I tell myself I ran out of time. The quiz says I am an Obliger but I can’t reconcile the fact that there’s a Lot of Questioner in me as well. So it’s confusing.

    • Vasco Pires

      I am really sorry but I was reading the post and saw your comment and I have to try and help you out on this one. I am no expert but you sound like a questioner to me. You say you do all kinds of stuff for your family maybe cuase if they are not really important in your point of view your relatives hapiness is, and that is questioner-like. The other behaviours sound like a questioner too, but correct if I am wrong on this one

  • OceanPark2

    Thanks for the link to the Jewel video – what a fun experience. I was struck by how, once the crowd knew that she was Jewel, they all pulled out their phones and cameras. Somehow the fact that they knew this was ‘important’ made them feel like they needed to document it, maybe share on social media. When they thought they were just watching Karen, everyone was just in the moment, directly and sincerely thrilled by their shared experience. I feel like there’s a pretty big happiness insight there – for me at least, when I put away my phones and cameras, and just live in the moment, I feel much more joy and awe. Would love to know if anyone has really “tried this at home” instead of documenting your daily life (from a previous episode, have you ever tried to intentionally NOT document and just experience?

  • Barbie

    I loved this podcast. I am an upholder. It was a relief to hear that we are a small group because so many people think I am different because I can make a resolution and stick to it. When I took on a weight loss program a few years ago, I made decisions of what I would and would not eat and have stuck to that ever since. Others call me disciplined and a great example of will power and all I see is that I made a decision. It was also a relief to find out why I get agitated when my plans are messed up.

  • Anna in France

    I have just listened to this episode about Upholders (am a bit behind on the podcasts due to holidays). Thank you for making me aware of ‘tightening’ – I realize I am prone to this, and now I can recognize it and if need be, decide to make a change. Which then, of course – I will uphold!

    • gretchenrubin

      Great to hear that it struck a chord with you.

  • The quiz (I took it twice) says I’m an Upholder (and I resonate with that). But I have a “problem”. I tend to schedule things (medical appointments, sign up for classes, schedule a trip) and then go around cancelling everything shortly after booking it! Like “I’m interested in doing this, but when it comes time to actually DO it, I’d rather stay home.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve spent money on one of these activities, only to cancel it and get no refund or a partial refund. My therapist has me waiting 45 minutes before I go signing up for anything online because of this issue (which also applies to online shopping/buyer’s remorse). Is this Upholder behavior?

    • gretchenrubin

      Interesting! Perhaps you’re an impulsive Upholder? I’ve often wondered about that combo, and whether it could be .
      Fascinating! Yes, the Strategy of Inconvenience would probably work GREAT for you.

      • The Strategy of Inconvenience…. is that a thing on your website or in one of your books? You capitalized the name, so I’m assuming it is a “thing” lol 🙂

        • gretchenrubin

          Yes, it’s one of the 21 strategies that I describe in my book Better Than Before.

        • Just found the paragraphs about it on your website. Great! I will get your book, too!!

  • I can’t wait to read your book! I’ve ordered two paperback copies, one for me and one for my aunt. I’m an extreme upholder, and I’m in the midst of my second divorce. I think my upholder tendencies contributed to staying way too long in each marriage, which I probably entered because “that’s what you do”, and someone asked me. Everyone knows the answer to Will You Marry Me should be yes. The first marriage ended when the horrendous side effects (stress, exhaustion, Bell’s Palsy, migraines) threatened to land me in the hospital. It came down to choosing myself or him, and I chose to uphold the obligation to myself, to preserve my own life. The second marriage has been on its last legs for 2 years (married for 15), and I’ve been unhappy for quite a while. I didn’t want to get divorced, however, and if my husband hadn’t initiated it, I’d still be married. We had a comfortable life. I’m excited now to embark on a new individual life, and since my children are grown and moved out, I will be able to design my own life, and adopt new habits. I’m moving into a different house, and I just learned on your podcast how much easier it is to establish new habits when undergoing a physical relocation. There’s always a silver lining! Thank you so much for your podcast!

    • gretchenrubin

      Those are big changes – good luck!

  • Jenny

    Upholder here… I have LOVED hearing about the four tendencies on the podcast and even begged my three closest friends to listen to the podcasts so we can diagnose each other’s tendencies. The four of us have been in different groups together over the years, had weekly coffee dates, and vacationed as families. All four of us ended up being different tendencies! The rebel of our foursome resisted listening to any podcasts (shocker), but trusted our diagnosis and just last night listened to the rebel podcast. She laughed all the way through it, confirming it was very true of her. It is very interesting see the strengths and weaknesses in each other, through the filter of the tendencies. And we can see how to help each other out, and give each other grace as well. On another note, my husband is a questioner, and Gretchen, I could totally relate to what you said in the Upholder podcast about be married to a questioner. For years I have bumped up against his questioning response, and been hurt or frustrated more often times than not. The funny thing is, the tendency I admire most is the questioner, because I see it as a weakness that I blindly do things when I am told. I’m so thankful my husband is a questioner. It really brings me balance and keeps my “tightening” in check. I can’t wait for the 4 Tendencies book or e-book. I have had so much fun with my friends discussing the tendencies in family members, other friends, and spouses. And the podcasts are so fun and helpful.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! I’m so happy to hear that you and your friends found it helpful. It’s fun to hear how they play out in groups —

  • Melissa Dart

    Question for Henry – what is the accounting app your girlfriend recommends? Thanks!

    • gretchenrubin


      • Melissa Dart

        I can’t believe how responsive you guys are – thank you!

        • gretchenrubin

          Thanks for the GOLD STAR you know I love them!

  • Joye Schwartz

    I am an upholder, which I was surprised about at first, but the more I hear about the tendency the more I see it is right on. I find that sometimes I get annoyed in groups/ organizations when people don’t follow the rules or procedures, urghh! I always get to the meetings on time, respond to emails, and generally follow guidelines. Knowing my tendency and that there are many people NOT like me, I am trying to be more patient with the other members of the drop.
    One more point, I am an upholder but I am very creative and definitely think out of the box, my profession is an artist/ painter, does this seem right? Do certain tendencies tend to be more creative?

    • gretchenrubin

      I think creativity is a separate element of personality, that can appear in all the Tendencies.

  • maddyd51

    I am wondering if people in other tendencies are terribly hard on themselves when they make a mistake. In my Upholder mind, making a mistake is the equivalent of letting someone else down or myself. I made a simple mistake today at work by sending the wrong version of a letter via email (along with a pdf of the right version). The wrong version went out to opposing counsel, of course.

    My boss never seems to be very mad about anything (I’m still figuring out his tendency!) and he didn’t come down on me at all about it, but I know I will not be able to sleep tonight because I am so upset about making this mistake. It was rather minor and might have no effect in the grand scheme of things, but it was a MISTAKE. I let myself and others down and I will beat myself up about not slowing down and not making the same mistake in the future.

    Is this an Upholder thing? Do I beat myself up with a vengeance because I hold myself to such a high standard? If yes, this falls into the category of weaknesses of an Upholder.

    On a lighter note, I was listening to this episode while grocery shopping and was laughing out loud! It was so “me.” I was going crazy because people were not properly placing their carts in the checkout line. Don’t they see the sign? Do they see the sign and can’t be bothered to follow the instructions. Gah!


    • gretchenrubin

      Great question. I think it is an Upholder thing.

  • Donna Kay

    How’s this for an upholder’s self knowledge of tightening? I pre ordered the hard copy of Better Than Before when it first came out and it sits there coyly on my bookshelf. I have not yet read it because I know I will completely geek out on it and I just haven’t had room in my life yet. I had this revelation during this episode when Henry weighed in about tracking his expenses (actually, NOT tracking his expenses). I totally identified with that.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great example!

  • Abby Hatch

    I’m an Upholder, but I tend to prioritize inner expectations over outer. For this reason, I’ve wondered whether I’m more of a Questioner. This episode convinced me, lol!

    I have TOTALLY experienced “tightening”!!! My morning and evening routines tend to get longer, and longer, and longer… Ironically, before listening to this episode, I’d already developed a strategy for dealing with this pattern. I practice “Throw-It-Out Thursdays”. 😉 Each Thursday, I look at my routines or my to-do list and pick something to get rid of! It’s been a huge help in combating this problem!

  • Marlene Mahurin

    I can’t tell you what an a-ha moment I had when I heard the part about tightening. I’m a classic upholder and sometimes my “rules” get stricter and stricter and I always wondered what was up. Tightening makes perfect sense and it’s great to be able to pause and recognize what’s happening. Love, love, love the podcast. Thanks so much!

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s great to hear that it struck a chord with you.

  • Emily Elizabeth

    I’ve just read your book – I’m an upholder, and now everything makes sense. I could never understand why someone couldn’t “get over themselves” and just DO whatever it is that they were trying to accomplish.

    Although I’m an upholder, I feel like I relate to the other Tendencies as well. I often question things, for example, I’ve always questioned why I needed to take a math class that taught about irrational ratios and the like, I don’t understand what they have to do with my every day life.

    I’ve on occasion refused to do something that is expected of me for the sole purpose that it was expected.

    And I often oblige to things mainly because I don’t “care,” even if I don’t particularly want do something.

    I enjoyed this book. I will be reading more from you.

    Thank YOU!!!