Podcast 41: Take One Thing with You, the Challenge of Impulse Buying, and I Need to Get Back to the Gym.

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

Update: Elizabeth’s trip to New York City, sadly, got cancelled.

Try This at Home: Take one thing with you. A clutter-busting strategy. Yes, this is so simple that it sounds dumb, but try it!

Happiness Stumbling Block: Impulse buying. We talk a lot about two strategies from Better than Before: the Strategy of Inconvenience and the Strategy of Monitoring.

We also talk about under-buyers and over-buyers.

Listener Question: “I have a lot to be grateful for, but I still don’t call myself a happy person. Why?”

Elizabeth works in a plug for my Super Soul Sunday appearance with Oprah. What a nice sister.

Gretchen’s Demerit:  Since we got Barnaby, I’ve stopped going to my cardio gym.

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth’s sister-in-law Michelle did a great job hosting Thanksgiving.

Call for comments, questions, observations!

In a few weeks, we’re going to do a round-up episode on the Four Tendencies. We’ve had so many great comments from listeners, so we want to highlight some responses — and we want more. In particular, we want to throw out a few questions.

Can you think of some famous examples of the Four Tendencies? For instance, Hermione Granger. Textbook Upholder!

Do you like your Tendency? Why or why not?

Obligers, if you’re experiencing Obliger-rebellion, I’d love to hear your experience. Especially how you got out of Obliger-rebellion.

If you’re paired with a Rebel, at home or at work, how does that work for you?


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Happier with Gretchen Rubin #41 - Listen at Happiercast.com/41

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  • aleishacd

    I DO NOT like being an Obliger because it seems weak/sad to me that we don’t do for ourselves what we do for others. Also, I struggle to find methods of accountability (for personal goals) that do not involve other people as I feel so weighed down by other people’s expectations and needs already. You say Obligers are the backbone of the world, but I just feel like a broken Upholder.

    Nevertheless, understanding this tendency has been hugely enlightening and has really helped me see myself much more clearly. It all reminds me of your paradox “Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy.”

    • Jen

      You explained exactly how I feel about being an obliger – that I am a broken upholder. I also find it hard to get other people involved in making me accountable for two reasons. I feel I don’t want to impose on them, and I would also like to keep my failures private (as on my past track record I don’t have a lot of faith that I can make changes without a lot of mis-steps along the way).

  • Mimi Gregor

    Regarding impulse buying: If you realize that this is a problem for you, then only go shopping when you need to buy something — not as entertainment. Just buy what is on your list, and only bring enough money to cover the purchase. You can leave some extra money or a credit card stashed in the trunk of the car, but if you have to go all the way back to the car for your money, chances are you will find the impulse purchase more trouble than it’s worth. And, outside of things like groceries and toiletries, only buy what you love. Are you buying those $400 stiletto-heeled shoes that you can’t actually walk in because you actually love them? Or is it because all the magazines have been telling you that they are the latest and greatest and that you must have them to be truly chic? Perhaps if you make it a rule that you have to sleep on a potential purchase for 24 hours, you can better assess if you really need the item or not. If you do, you can always buy it online later — sometimes with coupon codes, it can be cheaper than making an in-person purchase.

    Regarding how I feel about my tendency: I’m a Questioner, and I happen to think it’s the only way to be that makes sense. If you blindly do things to please others or because it’s tradition, you risk doing things that don’t actually make you happy. If you rebel against everything, then what about if someone tells you that you must do something that you actually want to do? Do you end up not doing it because you don’t want the other person to think that they can tell you what to do? That just doesn’t make any sense. Being a Questioner, everything comes down to whether it makes sense to me. Do I actually want to do it? Will it make me happier to do it? Do I perhaps have a better way to do it? To some people, this may seem like a lot of work, having to think every decision through and make a choice. Sure it’s easier to follow traditions and rules, No thinking involved. No choosing. If something goes wrong… well, it wasn’t my fault; I was following the rules. Being a Questioner means having to take responsibility for the results of all these choices — both the good and the bad. But I would not wish to be any other way.

    • Gillian

      Mimi, your second paragraph reminded me of a quote I read from John Stuart Mill who said that conformity is the enemy of the best way to live:

      “The human faculties of perception, judgement, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the custom, makes no choice. He gains no practice either in discerning or in desiring what is best. The mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved only by being used ….He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties.

      Following convention may lead a person to a satisfying life path and keep him out of harm’s way but what will be his comparative worth as a human being: It really is of importance, not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it.”

      • Mimi Gregor

        I have a saying that I think is original… but when you read a lot, who knows? “Conventional wisdom is for conventional people.” I could not be described as conventional… not by a long shot. So, keeping that in mind, why would what seems to make other people happy, make me happy? Most of the things that have made me happy went against “conventional wisdom”. That’s why I eschew the advice of “experts”.

  • Darcy Levy

    I like the idea of bringing one thing with you, but I far prefer to take it one step farther and always think “OHIO” – Only Handle It Once. When I’m picking things up, I pick up as many things as I can manage to handle that need to head in the same direction and put them all in their place. I find that a few frenzied minutes of decluttering make me so happy and that if I think OHIO, I can always motivate to get it done. I love what you say in the podcast about “Outer order leads to inner calm.” That couldn’t resonate with me any more.

    Love the podcast, as usual!

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  • Stephanie Francis

    Hi Gretchen and Elizabeth,
    I’ve never missed a podcast! I wanted to tell you about how the 4 tendencies enhanced my relationship with my husband. Scott is a questioner and I am an obliger. When reading that the questioner doesn’t feel the need to question everything that comes from someone they trust, it made me realize how much my husband trusts me. He rarely questions any task I give him and will just do what I ask. This realization made me recognize just how much my husband loves me. Thanks for the insight! Stephanie from sunny Florida

  • Debbie Gumulauski Rzepczynski

    Since being outted as an obliger, I went into rebellion-mode. I didn’t say ‘no,’ but I did call them on the fact that it was easier to ask me to do something at work than to work through the proper chain ‘o command. I merely said I’d be happier if they boosted my job’s grade-level if I was doing another department’s job. It was exhilarating and now I’ve gained a few hours a week to concentrate on my own work. Now if I can just harness this rebellion at home…

  • Caitlin

    Tips for impulse purchasing:
    1. After you buy the item, leave it in the bag with the receipt until you wear it. If you truly love something, you’ll tear off the tags and wear it within the week. If you don’t, it’ll still be in the bag 28 days later, and you’ll still have time to return it in the (usually) 30 day window. This gives you a fall back plan even if you do give in to your impulse buying urges.
    2. Picture the entire outfit and event you’ll wear the item to. Most of the time, I catch myself trying to buy something that doesn’t fit into my wardrobe, like a patterned work blouse that I don’t have have a matching skirt to go with or even the matching shoes so as much as I love it, I’ll never wear it. Or I’ll buy something I like but have nowhere to wear it to, like a shorter skirt – I never wear skirts when I go out socially and wouldn’t wear a short skirt to work. If I don’t have an immediate place or full out fit planned, I don’t buy it.

  • Courtney

    I’m an Obliger who has been with a Rebel for four years and I’ve just had a bit of an epiphany about my Obliger rebellion, so both your questions were perfect for me this week.

    I have realized that my Obliger rebellion, very inconveniently, is directed at myself and my own personal habits. When I get overwhelmed with the expectations of others (I am a teacher and also in charge of student management, welfare, and parent interactions for 280 10th Grade students so LOTS of Obliging required in my job), I take the Obliger rebellion out on myself. Things like healthy eating and exercise do more than just take a backseat when I am too busy in the rest of my life; I actually find myself eating unhealthy food or skipping exercise wilfully, almost as if to spite the part of me that has burned out from upholding the expectations of others. I haven’t found the solution to this, only identified it as a problem. Like I said, the Obliger part of my job is absolutely non-negotiable so the only thing I can really rebel against are my own personal priorities. I’ve tried to make myself accountable to my partner, my parents, or my closest friend (a very helpful upholder) but if I have too much on my plate, my work is the sole part of my life that doesn’t suffer. The only solution I have thought of so far is not to let myself become so over-stretched, but again, that is not always possible. My life is still relatively free of responsibilities (childcare and home-ownership, etc), so I’m not sure what I’m going to do in a few years when things are even busier.

    As for being paired with a Rebel: my partner is the consummate Rebel. He takes great pride in being different to others and actively resists anything that suggests conformity, ‘settling’, or tradition, to the point that he can be illogical about his choices and ideas. I am a patient Obliger and he is a charming, caring, interesting person who is my ideal partner in most ways. I weathered some of the more frustrating Rebel tendencies for a few years before realizing that the best way to be with him was just to let things go. I wouldn’t give up on something that was important to me, but as soon as I accepted that he was going to do something his way and stopped bugging him about it, he would almost immediately start doing it the way I had wanted him to do it in the first place. I actually prefer this because it shows me he’s doing it because he knows it’s important to me and chooses to do it to make me happy, not because I’m nagging. It’s made me a lot more relaxed about our relationship and life in general, and I’m a lot better at accepting that things will work themselves out without me worrying or stressing.

    Reading Better Than Before a few months ago clarified the realizations I had already come to about my partner and helped me accept him even more. He still actively resists being classified as a Rebel, but he knows it’s true of him! My two favourite stories about managing his Rebel tendency –

    a. He was leaving for a big trip at 10am the next day and wasn’t sure whether he should leave his packing until the morning he was leaving. Normally I would have tried to convince him to pack the night before because that’s closest to what I would do (actually, I would have packed the week before). I had just read Better Than Before so I said, “Most people would leave the packing until tomorrow– you’ve got time, just do it in the morning.” He immediately straightened up defiantly and said, “No, I’m going to pack right now.”

    b. After a big night out for his birthday, he flopped down right in the middle of the bed, leaving a little sliver for me to sleep on. All I had to say was, “I don’t think you’re capable of moving over; too much tequila, I bet.” As soon as “I don’t think you’re capable” left my mouth, he’d made so much room for me that he was practically off the edge of the bed.

    I’m trying not to use those tricks too much so he doesn’t start rebelling against them, too, but it just works so comically well sometimes!

    I know a lot of people would read that description, or hear about our relationship and think it sounds difficult or frustrating, but he is still able to be a Rebel and a caring, thoughtful person at the same time. I also think I get a lot as an Obliger from living vicariously through his ability to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it instead of caring too much about what others expect of him. Very early in our relationship, I felt cheated by the fact that I was always thinking of his needs while he was also always thinking of his needs and not of mine. He’s gotten better about thinking of me, but more importantly, this forced me to start prioritizing myself instead of him– which is how it should be. It was difficult to do, but I’m better for it. He helps me to be more mindful of what I want and need. I should probably be looking to my Rebel partner for a solution to my Obliger rebellion, now that I think about it!

  • Jamie

    So interesting that you have fallen down on your gym habit… I’m cooking and relisteneinlg to the podcast from the beginning and in episode 4 you say that even though you’ve been exercising for quite some time, you still down feel like that habit is very strong. It was in response to a listener question about whether the idea that it takes 30 days to form a habit is true (your answer: no).

  • Amanda Beatty

    I loved the Try This At Home this week! As a kid I remember my mom always placing things that belonged upstairs, on the first few steps of the staircase on the main floor. I never understood it, but as a homeowner myself now, I find I do the same thing! It’s easy to grab one thing that needs to go upstairs and place it on the step – way less commitment than actually taking it all the way upstairs! Then the next time you go upstairs, take it up and either put it away, or simply place on a hall table or bookshelf as one step closer to eventually getting put away!

  • Alicia B.

    This “try this at home” this week is genius! As a mother of a VERY active 16 month old, most of our apartment is not in it’s correct place and I get very overwhelmed with it. Tackling it one item at a time makes it so much more manageable–and knowing that i don’t have to put it the exact spot is great. I literally hurled a pair of pants into my room as i was chasing my daughter down the hall. Thanks!!

  • Karis

    I signed up for Amazon’s subscribe and save program shortly after having my twins this year and it’s helped considerably with impulse buying. I get exactly what I need delivered to my door without the temptation that comes with wandering the aisles at Target, and as a bonus the pricing is better on almost every item.