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Happiness Expert Gretchen Rubin Shares How You Can Strengthen Family Relationships

“It’s important to help people notice patterns in themselves.”
Gretchen Rubin

on March 02, 2021

Happiness comes in many forms. It’s getting a great parking spot or taking your bra off after a long day. And happiness expert Gretchen Rubin has dedicated her work to exploring the “how” and “why” of what makes us happy and how we can feel more joy in our everyday lives. The bestselling author of The Happiness Project, The Four Tendencies and, mostly recently, Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness, stopped by The MomForce Podcast to share her pro tips on how you can strengthen your family through proactively learning more about yourself and those around you.

How do expectations factor into happiness?

We all respond to two kinds of expectations: outer expectations (like a work deadline) and inner expectations (like a desire to keep a new year's resolution). Depending on how you meet outer and inner expectations is what classifies you as one of the four tendencies, and unlocking your tendency can help you understand a lot about yourself and the people around you. 

What are the four tendencies?

The four tendencies are: an upholder, a questioner, an obliger, or a rebel. And here's a little more information about each of them...


Upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations. They meet the work deadline. They keep the new year's resolution without much fuss. They want to know what other people expect from them, but their expectations for themselves are just as important. Their motto is : Discipline is my freedom.


Questioners challenge all expectations. They'll do something if they think it makes sense. They resist anything arbitrary, inefficient or unjustified. They want justification. Their motto is: I’ll comply if you convince me why.


Obligers readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations. The key thing for obligers to know is that if they want to meet an inner expectation, they must create a system of outer accountability. If you want to read more, join a book group. If you want to exercise more, take a class or work out with a trainer. So the motto of the obliger is: You can count on me and I'm counting on you to count on me.


Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do what they want to do in their own way; however, if you tell them to do something, they're very likely to resist. And typically they don't tell themselves what to do. And so their motto is: You can't make me and neither can I.

How has being aware of your children’s tendencies helped you parent them?

I'm very much a believer in the genetic roots of personality, and I think that your tendency is something that's hardwired. It's something that you bring into the world. And of course it's influenced by your environment. With my younger daughter, it was very clear to me from the beginning that she was an upholder, and maybe I recognize that more easily because I'm an upholder myself. My older daughter took a lot longer for me to figure out. I couldn't figure out what she was until she went to college and then I realized that she's a questioner.

I think it's helpful to know the tendencies because sometimes you can intellectually understand something that eludes you when you’re coming at it from your own experience. Life is confusing to adults and children alike. We all ask ourselves, “Who am I? What do I like? What environments do I thrive in?” I try to say things to my daughters like, “Wow, I noticed that you really like work environments where the organization seems really well-run. You don't seem to like scrappier organizations.” It’s important to help people notice patterns in themselves. Sometimes we don't notice what our strengths are or even what we're interested in. It helps when other people point them out.

What is one way people can help meet their own inner expectations?

One thing I teach people about is the one minute rule. The one minute rule is anything you can do in less than a minute, you go ahead and do it without delay. You don't let yourself off the hook. So if you can print out a document and file it, if you can hang up a coat instead of throwing it over a chair, if you can reach back and throw that piece of trash into the trash can instead of just setting it next to you on your desk, go ahead and do it.

What this does is it just gets rid of that layer of clutter that's on the surface of life. None of these things are consequential, but when you walk into a room that has 50 little tasks, you feel overwhelmed. If you do things one minute at a time, you won't even notice them.

Listen to the full MomForce Podcast episode for more of Gretchen’s wisdom, check out her website for more on the four tendencies and follow her on Instagram.

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