5 Things Making Me Happy



This week, five things making me happy are four things: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels.

Five years ago, my book The Four Tendencies hit the shelves, in which I explained my “Four Tendencies” personality framework.

In the past, I didn’t pay much attention to publication anniversaries. But I finally realized that most writers—and I’m in this group—will publish only a handful of books in a lifetime, so it’s worth recognizing a milestone.

It’s funny. On the one hand, I have to admit, I’m astonished that I was able to identify the Tendencies. I remember my months of frustrated study, as I was trying to discern the pattern among all sorts of seemingly unrelated behaviors and attitudes. On the other hand, I’m astonished that no one ever noted the Tendencies before, because once you know what to look for, they’re extremely obvious. I feel that I didn’t invent this framework, I discovered it—like the Periodic Table of the Elements.

Now I notice the Four Tendencies all the time. As my sister Elizabeth says, “I don’t know what we talked about before the Four Tendencies.”

In a nutshell, the Four Tendencies describes how people respond to outer and inner expectations.

·         Upholders meet outer and inner expectations readily. “Discipline is my freedom.” (I’m an Upholder.)

·         Questioners meet inner expectations, but meet outer expectations only if they make sense. “If you convince me why, I’ll comply.”

·         Obligers (the largest Tendency) meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations—therefore, they need outer accountability to meet inner expectations. “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.”

·         Rebels (the smallest group) resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They do what they choose to do, when they choose to do it, and typically they don’t tell themselves what to do. “You can’t make me, and neither can I.”

Many thanks to all the readers and listeners who have contacted me with insights, examples, observations, and questions about the Four Tendencies. The world is my research assistant! I never take this engagement for granted.


Gretchen Rubin

5 things making me happy



Don’t know your Tendency? You can take the free, quick quiz here. More than 3.2 million people have taken it—which makes me very happy.




I get a big kick from spotting the Tendencies out in the world, and while reading or watching TV or movies, I love seeing the Tendencies in action. Read this post for examples of fictional characters’ Tendencies. For instance, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a magnificent portrait of the strengths and weaknesses of an Upholder. It’s a Wonderful Life, Before Midnight and 27 Dresses have remarkable scenes of Obliger-rebellion. Game of Thrones , Mad Men, and Parks and Recreation have many obvious examples of all four Tendencies. (I just embarked on Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul, so am watching for the Tendencies there.)

I’m still collecting examples, so if you notice a Tendency, let me know by using #TendencySpotting on social media.





 I love books, and I love book-jacket art. The Four Tendencies has been published in many languages, with different covers. If you’re interested, you can see a few international covers here.


I’ve always been fascinated by the subject of habits (Upholder!), and I figured out the Four Tendencies because I was researching habits for my book Better Than Before . When and why did people have an easier or harder time making or breaking habits? When I started the research for that book, I intended to identify the “best” way to tackle habits, but, I learned, there can be no “best” way, because we’re all different.

For that reason, we need to understand ourselves, so we can use the strategies that will work for us. The Four Tendencies framework is a key piece of that self-knowledge. For instance, for Obligers, accountability is essential; for Rebels, it can be counter-productive. To learn more about using your Tendency for habit change, go here. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, so if we have habits that work for us, we’re likely to be happier. (Plus I’ve become happier since I stopped trying to pretend that I like spontaneity.)



Nothing gratifies me more than hearing about how the Four Tendencies have affected people’s lives, and to learn about the creative, ingenious ways that people put the framework into action. Families discuss it over Thanksgiving dinner, doctors assign it to their patients, teachers draw on it when dealing with their students, spouses use it with each other. You can find guides for using The Four Tendencies in common situations in the Four Tendencies section of my resources page. Just yesterday, I got an email from a Rebel who, after a health scare, was having a lot of trouble getting himself to take frequent medication and wear a medi-alert bracelet—until he figured out how to tap into his Rebel Tendency.


  •  I’ve created a series of gift boxes for each Tendency. Each includes the new The Four Tendencies Companion Guide which is available only in the gift boxes.

We can build happier lives only on the foundation of our own nature.


Episodes and blog posts

A Little Happier Podcast

More Good Advice from My Mother


Catie Marron's career has encompassed investment banking, magazine journalism as Senior Features Editor for Vogue, and serving the Board of Trustees for the New York Public Library.

Happier Podcast

395: Stay Aware of STUFF, How to Make Time to Rest, And What to Say If You’re at a Loss for Words

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FAQ: What if My Result from the Four Tendencies Quiz Doesn’t Seem Right?

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More Happier: Why a Necklace and a Dimmer System Made Us Happy. Plus How to Figure Out Someone’s Tendency

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Additional resources

Looking for more strategies for happiness and good habits?

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Additional resources

Looking for more strategies for happiness and good habits?

Subscribe to receive bi-weekly tips for practical ways to make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

Click here to subscribe >


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Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.