intentional living

EP 053: Defining & Creating Happiness with Gretchen Rubin

July 11, 2018

I'm allie

I'm here to shake things up and challenge the status quo of motherhood. Let's throw out the old rulebook and create a new narrative where moms are living their dream lives unapologetically.

hi, friend

Feel like you need a total revamp?


I get it, daily routines can be overwhelming. But you? You're seeking life ownership. Dive into this beloved guide and tap into easy self-reflection, without overtaxing your brain.

How do you define happiness? What are ways that you find happiness? You don’t need to spend a lot of time, money or energy to find happiness. Not everyone can uproot their lives and travel the world – most of us have kids who need us at home! Simple changes to your daily habits, a deeper investment into the relationships in your life, or putting self care as a priority are all ways that you can boost your happiness daily. You just have to decide that you are going to find ways to be happier right in the middle of usual. Which is why I brought Gretchen Rubin on the show for this specific topic! Gretchen is a wife, mom of 2 daughters, co-host of The Happier Podcast, and a New York Time bestselling author. She uses her platform to help others find their happiness, create good habits, and cultivate a more inner calm. And I know she is going to help guide you to defining and creating happiness in your life!




In This Episode, Allie + Gretchen Discuss:

  • Ways you can find happiness – without a lot of time, without a lot of energy, without a lot of money – in the ordinary parts of your day.

  • How your habits impact your happiness and how you can use them as an engine to fuel your happiness.

  • The important connection between happiness and relationships because doing anything to deepens your relationships, is very likely to boost your happiness.

  • Finding happiness in self care and why you should not feel guilty for it.

Mentioned in this Episode:

When you buy something, you buy it with your time. With minutes from your life. Not just with your money. Studies show us that less clutter equals less stress and more time. It is really as simple as that.

This was the founding reason that I created Your Uncluttered Home. It has become my most popular, globally-praised, decluttering course that I designed for moms who want to live their lives more than they want to clean up after it.

It is truly the A-Z of minimalism. Every room. Every area. Every nook and cranny of your house totally uncluttered. This super extensive, extremely detailed course is literally everything you need to become a minimalist momma who is able to be a lot more present for what matters most.



Mom life. We are surrounded with the message that it’s the tired life. The no-time-for-myself life. The hard life. And while it is hard and full of lots of servitude, the idea that motherhood means a joyless life is something I am passionate about putting a stop to. I’m on a mission to help you stop counting down the minutes till bedtime, at least most days. I want you to stop cleaning up after your kid’s childhood and start being present for it. Start enjoying it. I believe in John 10:10 “that we are called to abundant life” and I know mothers are not excluded from that promise. Join me in conversations about simplicity, minimalism and lots of other good stuff that leads to a life of less for the sake of enjoying more in your motherhood. I’m Allie Casazza and this is The Purpose Show.


ALLIE: Hey ladies! Welcome back to another episode of The Purpose Show. I am sitting here with Gretchen Rubin. Welcome, Gretchen! Thank you so much for being here. I’m excited to dive in with you.

If you don’t know, Gretchen is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Happiness Project, which I have right here, and you’ve since started a podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin and it’s amazing.

I am a podcast producer, but I don’t listen to many of them. Yours is one of the two that I listen to on a regular basis. I love it. It’s so important.

GRETCHEN: That’s so nice to hear. I do it with my sister and we have so much fun doing it together.

ALLIE: Yeah, you guys are fun. Before we dive in, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?

GRETCHEN: Sure. I live in New York City, but I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. I’m married. I have two daughters, one who just went off to college this year. It was bittersweet. And then one who’s in seventh grade, so she’s still in middle school. We got a dog, which I talked about a lot on the podcast, us trying to decide whether or not to get a dog. Big spoiler alert. We did get a dog.

I’ve written several books about happiness, good habits and human nature, The Happiness Project, and Happier At Home, which is all about specifically how to be happier at home. And a book called Better Than Before, which is all about how to change your habits. That’s something that a lot of people want to do in order to make themselves happier. I’ve written a book called The Four Tendencies, which is all about a personality framework that I discovered in the world about whether people are Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels.

And then I have a book coming out in March called Outer Order, Inner Calm which is all about little fun ideas to get more outer order, if you are one of those people who feels like outer order gives you more inner calm.

ALLIE: Yeah, for sure. You’re amazing. So many books. That’s awesome.

Diving into The Happiness Project, I love how you say in your book, it might even be in the introduction, that you say that so many people have gone before you on this pursuit of happiness and that a lot of them, especially some of them were famed (I mean they’re not called a happiness project, but that’s what they are) involved a big uprooting of life, like Elizabeth Gilbert moved to, I think, three or four different countries. But you didn’t really want to do that, first of all, and then also you admittedly couldn’t just because your kids were probably much younger when you were doing this and your life, so you decided to find ways to become happier right in the middle of the usual, which I think is, is so powerful. And as a mom, I appreciate you doing that and writing a book on it because we can’t all just move to Bali.

GRETCHEN: As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the study of happiness, one of the things that’s really encouraging is that I think for just about everyone, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit. There’s a lot of stuff we can do – without a lot of time, without a lot of energy, without a lot of money – just as part of our ordinary day that can really significantly boost happiness.

And so, it’s not like you have to have the emotional or the physical wherewithal to do something huge because a lot of times it’s really the little things that can add up to make a very significant difference.

ALLIE: Yeah, and it’s really empowering. It’s exciting to read about stories like that, big, grand stories, but it can also be, discouraging is the wrong word, but just a little like, “Oh, well how can I get that?”

GRETCHEN: It is hard to see how to translate it in your own situation sometimes when what they’re doing is so exotic, extreme and colorful, and you’re like, “Yeah, but I’ve got carpool at 7:15 in the morning. I don’t really see how I am going to fit that in.”

I remember a woman said to me, “I feel like a 10-day silent meditation retreat would make me really happy, but my husband isn’t sure that he wants to be left home with the five kids.” I can kind of see both perspectives there.

ALLIE: So for your year-long happiness project (you did 12 months) an area of your life was dedicated to each month. I feel like a lot of them as I was reading the book, kind of branched off into other areas a little bit. You covered a wide range of things in some of the months, but really you were giving attention to one area of your life for the full month, keeping yourself from getting distracted by the other things and giving that your focus. And so just curious, what was your favorite month?

GRETCHEN: Wow, that is a really good question. I mean, I loved the month of eternity because I love studying my spiritual master St Therese of Lisieux, so that was really wonderful and transcendent.

I would say most of the things that I talk about are really super concrete, you know, they’re like the one-minute rule – anything you can do in less than a minute to do without delay. And so, it was sort of fun me to do something like study the life of St Therese. And by the way, I’m not even Catholic. I knew nothing about St Therese until I read her memoir and was like, “Oh my gosh, she’s my spiritual master.”

I loved the month of energy, which was January, because I thought, “Well if I just had more energy, everything in my life would be easier.” Absolutely true. And I would say like as the years have gone by, I’m very, very focused on things that go to my energy because I just realize it’s so much easier to do all the things that I know will make me happier if I feel like I have the energy. If you’re just exhausted then you don’t have the energy to do an arts and crafts project with your child or to plan a party or to go to your reunion. It just seems like too much trouble.

And then I love reading. I had a whole month that was really about just getting more reading into my day. I love that. I’m working on trying to make sure I have enough time to read.

Relationships. I had one for my family, one with my marriage to my husband. Those were really nice. They really paid off.

I think I would keep going until I hit all 12 because I really did love them all. It was a wonderful exercise. Everything made me happier.

ALLIE: The reading one was particularly inspiring. I love to read, but I have four kids and my oldest is nine, so they’re all very little. They were all born within five years and it’s crazy. I mean really it’s an excuse because we can fit in what we want to fit in. I’m watching the office, I plowed through those.

GRETCHEN: Oh my gosh. Let’s talk about the office. I can throw it down. I have seen the office so many times.

It’s interesting that you say that though, because then I went onto write a book about habits. And it was interesting to me (and encouraging to people like you and me who love to read) how many people had that as a habit that they really wanted to change. Many, many, many people want to read more. I actually did a one sheet (and it’s on my website if anybody wants it) that’s ideas for how you can get more reading done. I was very surprised. I didn’t know that so many people like to read as much as they do, but a lot of people really do want to bring it back in.

But you’re right, it’s easy for it to get crowded out. So, I think there are tips that you can use. The easiest tip is don’t read anything that you don’t like. I used to feel like I had to finish a book if I started it and now I drop it at any point. Then you like what you’re reading more and you have more time to read the things you like. It really makes reading much better. But a lot of people have this feeling that you shouldn’t stop. There’s no “book police.”  

ALLIE: I think chapters were always a big thing that held me back. “I have to finish this chapter. I can’t read the whole chapter, so I just won’t.” Reading a page or two is progress.

You’ve mentioned January was one of your favorite months and that is the one I really want to dive into. I think I read that chapter two or three times because it was right what I love to talk about. It really hit home as part of my personal story. Letting go of the clutter. That was the first thing you decided to tackle. I think for my story too, it all started out of desperation and not really knowing what to do. Just purging that physical clutter and then seeing how that carried over into every area of my life.

For our listeners, how do you think that taking on your physical, literal space first helped you in this happiness project?

GRETCHEN: Well, I mean you’ve seen the same thing. I think it’s weird and kind of mystical, our feeling of connection to the objects around us, to our possessions. There’s something about when you feel like your possessions are out of control, or you don’t really know what you have, or things are out of place, don’t fit, don’t suit, you don’t like them, or you don’t even know what they are. “What is that chord? I have no idea.”

I remember I took a pair of pants out of my husband’s closet. He’s like, “I’ve never seen that pair of pants before in my life.” I’m like, “I don’t know who snuck in here and put them in, but…” You feel out of order. You feel more self-possession when you feel in control of your possessions.

It’s just making space. When it’s easier to hang up your coat. When you can shove a bureau drawer closed neatly. When food is put away nicely. You feel more composed. You feel calmer. You have less frustration. You know where to find your keys. You’re not scrambling all the time.

I wrote about this in Happier At Home. There are certain places in our homes which feel like us. Your bedroom feels like you in a way. Making your bed makes you feel more like yourself. The kitchen has a special role; it’s not some random arm chair. Your kitchen is special. Your desk is special. Your car is special to you, it reflects on you in some way.

And so, I think getting control of it, having it look good, having it feel like it’s everything you need, use or love. Feeling that connection.

It’s funny asking people about this, how often people will have places in their homes or even their apartments (because I live in New York City) that are untouched, that get neglected. For whatever reason it’s like, “I don’t know why we never really used that room. I don’t know why that closet became this junk black hole that nobody ever goes in or out, like Willy Wonka’s factory.” Why is that?

Or  “Ooo, it’s scary under the kitchen sink. I don’t want to go under there.” Deal with that stuff. You’ll feel so much more self-possessed.

ALLIE: Yeah. You talk a lot about taking something on. I think we avoid things a lot, like clutter. I see it every time I work with somebody. They’re avoiding it. They know that it’s a problem. They don’t like it. They’re not happy at home, but they’re just avoiding it because it seems overwhelming.

And particularly in that chapter you talked about how it was funny how it seemed like this big thing and it really wasn’t that big of a deal. So, for somebody that may be feeling like that – “I just avoid it; I have kids; it’s so much to take that on” – what would you say to that kind of mindset?

GRETCHEN: Well, I think one of the things to remember is there’s all kinds of different ways to approach this. You want to do it in a way that feels right for you. This is one of my objections to Marie Kondo. I found Marie Kondo very charming. I love the book. I got rid of a lot of stuff after reading the book. But she’s so clear that there is one way and her way is the right way. I think for a lot of people if they just took everything out of a closet and put it on the floor, they’d freak out. It wouldn’t make anything better, you know?

I think sometimes you do little things. A shelf, just do one shelf in a medicine cabinet if that’s all you feel like you can do. Just do one shelf, just do one shelf in your kitchen.

And then there are things that you can do as you go that help keep clutter away. One that works really well is the one-minute rule. Anything you can do in less than a minute do without delay. Hang up a coat. Rip open a letter, scan it and toss it. Put the milk back in the refrigerator. Shut a drawer. All these little things add up. They get rid of the “scum” on the surface of life. It really makes it feel much more possible to do a bigger job because you’re not so burdened down by these little jobs.

Another thing, a friend of mine told me to do this and I have been amazed at how effective it is, is always take one thing with you when you go from one room to another. You don’t have to put something away. So, if I have my sweater, it’s not like I’m taking my sweater all the way from the front door to my closet, but I’m just going to move it as far as I can naturally take it as part of wherever I’m moving in my apartment. The thing that’s weird is how much faster it is to put things away because everything’s gradually moving to its place. Then you don’t have to set aside an afternoon because you’ve been doing it along the way. Now kids make it hard. Kids are like a whole other level of clutter, but those are some ways that you can keep clutter more under control as you go.

ALLIE: Actually, after reading your book for this interview, I thought about some of the things you say like, “Okay, yeah, that wouldn’t work in our home because we have little kids, but I can branch off of that and I got inspired to problem-solve basically. And one thing that I did was I went and bought this really cute wicker basket for next to my stairs downstairs and it’s pretty good. So now anytime anything is down stairs that goes upstairs, just goes in the basket and everybody lifts the basket upstairs and puts things away. It’s the smallest tweak and it has changed the house and the way I feel.

GRETCHEN: Absolutely. Absolutely that just having things ready to be moved like that I think can be huge. And that’s one of the things that’s really fun is sometimes the smallest little tweak. For us, nobody would ever hang up their coat. And I was the worst of anybody. I hate hanging things up so there were coats everywhere and it just looks very messy. But then when we moved from one apartment to the next I got four hooks put in each closet door. So, we have hooks everywhere. It’s huge because it turns out that people won’t be bothered to hang up their coats, but they will put their coats on a hook, or if I put their coat on a hook, it just takes one second.

It’s just this one little investment of time and a tiny bit of investment of money, ends up being having kind of a disproportionate benefit in terms of the overall way that our house looks.

Now that we have a dog, which we got a couple of years ago, I get up in the morning and take him for a walk and I’ve fallen into the habit every morning of tidying up. I used to tidy up before bed, but I’m so tired that I just want to go to bed. Now I tidy up in the morning and I put things away. I don’t do any cleaning. It’s a very relaxing, peaceful way to start the day for like 5-10 minutes. Everything is nicer for the rest of the day. I do it before I get his leash out. And it’s this calming thing. It doesn’t feel like a big deal. It’s just a nice way to get everything back where it’s supposed to be before the day begins.

ALLIE: I like how you realized that your season of life is kind of ebbing. You don’t have to be so rigid.

GRETCHEN: I think you’re putting your finger on something that’s one of the challenges of parenthood, which is that the minute you get everything figured out, you lose a nap and then you’re like, “Oh my gosh, how do I do it now that we have no naps?” Or you get everything figured out and then they go to kindergarten and have to be at school an hour earlier in the morning and everything has to readjust because “Oh my gosh, we’ve got to be up and out an hour earlier.”

And so, I think that’s one of the challenges is if you like to have systems in place, it can be hard because as soon as you get a system in place, your child’s schedule changes and then everything else has to follow along. That’s part of the fun of it, of course. But it can be a challenge if you’re really in a groove and then it just doesn’t work anymore.

ALLIE: This is segwaying into my next question for you, but this is why I love how you talk about habits. I think having habits instead of a rigid, time-based schedule is so helpful as a busy mom. “These are the things that I need to do, these are the habits that I have during the day, and then if it needs to shift by a couple of hours, that’s fine. As long as this gets done, we’ll all be functioning.” Instead of being like, “Okay, 1:00-2:00 p.m. I have to write and then fold the laundry or whatever.


When you buy something, you buy it with your time. With minutes from your life. Not just with your money. Studies show us that less clutter equals less stress and more time. It is really as simple as that.

This was the founding reason that I created Your Uncluttered Home. It has become my most popular, globally-praised, decluttering course that I designed for moms who want to live their lives more than they want to clean up after it.

It is truly the A-Z of minimalism. Every room. Every area. Every nook and cranny of your house totally uncluttered. This super extensive, extremely detailed course is literally everything you need to become a minimalist momma who is able to be a lot more present for what matters most.

To learn more about the course, go to

This really is the short-cut version. The exact journey that I took as a mom, 5-6 years ago, that got me to this point of an uncluttered, minimalistic motherhood where I am spending the least amount of time on my house every day.

Motherhood is just way too sweet a time to be spent struggling so hard and living in survival mode day in and day out. Our stuff is really the cause of that.

If you want to start this lifestyle, if you want to simplify your life… I believe that it all starts at home.

Simplify your life.


ALLIE: So, since you do talk a lot about habits, what is the connection there? What’s the connection between habits and happiness?

GRETCHEN: Well, that’s a great question. I wrote The Happiness Project and then I wrote Happier At Home and that’s what got me into studying habits because I realized that when I would talk to people about their happiness challenges, what was it that they wanted to work on in order to be happier? A lot of times what they would point to is something having to do with a habit. They would say things like, “My house is always a mess and it’s making me crazy.” Or “I can’t exercise even though I know I feel better when I exercise.” Or “I want to eat more healthfully. I want to practice guitar. I want to read to my child every night in bed. I want to create this e-course to sell as my side hustle.” Whatever it is.

And I realized that for a lot of these challenges, habits really had the solution, you know? Because as you said, there’s all this power in habits because when you have something as a habit, you don’t have to use willpower. You don’t have to make decisions, which is draining and difficult. Something just happens on autopilot. It’s just gonna happen. You don’t have to think about it; it just goes.

And so, I became very interested in understanding how can we use habits to make ourselves happier? It’s clear that they can be used to make ourselves happier, but then that just gets you to the question of, “Okay, well then how do you change your habits?” That’s a very big question. That’s what I ended up writing a whole book about it because it turns out it really depends on the person.

What would work for you to change your habits might be very different from what would work for me to change my habits. So, I just sort of understand the whole landscape of it, but I think just about everyone agrees that if you use habits wisely, they can be a tremendous engine for happiness because they make it easier to do the things that make us happier.

ALLIE: Yeah, absolutely. So, if somebody was listening (like I said, most of my listeners are mothers and are in that overwhelming season) what would you say is a good start to just bringing in a little bit of happy when you feel like there isn’t a lot of time or quietness for you to even think and process through working on that? What’s one small way to start bringing in a little more happiness into your day-to-day life?

GRETCHEN: Like in the moment or a long-term or both? So, if you need something quick, like a mood boost right now, I would say one great thing is to listen to your favorite upbeat music. That’s one of the quickest, easiest ways to intervene in your mood. Or even doing 10 jumping jacks. This is one of my favorites. I’ll often say this to my daughters, if they’re feeling blue, “Give me 10 jumping jacks,” because it shakes you up. It’s kind of goofy. It gets your feet off the ground.

If you need something more long-term. I think the thing to think about is relationships. Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that to be happy we need strong relationships. Not just buddies that we can talk about the office with, but people where we can confide, we feel like we belong, we have intimate, enduring bonds. So, anything that deepens your relationships or broadens your relationships, is very likely to boost your happiness.

A lot of times relationships take time, energy and money. So, go to your college reunion, go to see your friend’s new baby, plan a party, make a lunch date instead of eating lunch at your desk or just staying home. Make a plan to meet another family at the park. Even though you feel like, “Ugh, who wants to get into all the logistics of it?” If you do that, it’s probably gonna make you happier.

Join or start a book group. It doesn’t have to be a book group; it could be a podcast group. It could be a book swapping group. If you don’t have time to read, you could just swap books and talk about books.

There’s all kinds of things that people do. A friend of mine wanted to start a book group for people who read People Magazine. She said, “I have a lot to say and I would always be prepared.” I’m like, “That’s a great idea for a group. If people don’t have time to read right now, like you say, pick something that everybody’s excited to do, because what’s important is that you’re getting together and that you’re having that consistency.

So that’s one thing to think about. Take time to call your parents. Take time to stay in touch with old friends. If everybody’s trying to get together in Boston for Columbus Day, really make an effort to get there. Strengthening relationships really is something that boosts our happiness in the short-term and also in the long-term.

ALLIE: Yeah. And I found it actually really surprising that you mentioned and other experts and philosophers have found the same, that friendship was the biggest contributor to happiness. I don’t know, it just really surprised me. I have great friendships, but it feels like it’s a little bit on the back burner, I guess? Maybe it’s just my season and that’s okay.

But when I started to think about it, it’s true. Having coffee with a friend before the week starts. I mean it totally changes the way things go. It is so important to invest in those life-giving relationships on top of your marriage and your relationship with your kids. And so, I guess it’s just maybe something that us moms in this young season are not really thinking about. It feels like a little bit of a back-burner issue.

GRETCHEN: But I think it’s all relationships, not just your friends. But, I think you’re right and I think it’s good to realize that there are different seasons of life and that certain things aren’t possible right now, but they might be possible later.

So, maybe right now you can’t be in a book group, but you should be alert for when maybe you could. Things do become possible at different points and it’s easy to miss the fact that, “Oh, wow, you know, now I could do this. I could get up and go for a walk every morning because my kids can get themselves up and dressed by themselves. It turns out I don’t have to be here every moment.”

I think one thing is to think about is, “Well, what can’t I do, but what can I do?”

ALLIE: Yeah, for sure. So, one comment that I see over and over and over again in what I do is the topic of self-care and pursuing happiness in that way. This happened the other day. I felt that nagging feeling that you need to be alone. I’m an introvert. I need to be alone. And I hadn’t been in a long time. All of these social things had happened. I homeschool my kids so they’re always here. I avoided it for two weeks and I just kind of snapped, meltdown, not my best self. I was like, “You know what, I’m going to go.” I did a three-hour, just got out of the house and took care of myself. But I am just flooded with messages every time. “How do you do that without feeling guilty? I feel so self-centered doing that.” Please talk about that.

GRETCHEN: Okay. So, this goes directly to my most recent book, which was called The Four Tendencies, which divides people into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers and Rebels. And what it has to do with is how you respond to expectations. Outer expectations – like a work deadline – or inner expectations – like my own desire to keep a new year’s resolution.

Most people can tell what they are just from this brief description, but there’s a quiz on my site,, if people want to take the quiz, but most people don’t need the quiz.

Upholders readily meet outer and inner expectations. They meet the work deadline, they meet the new year’s resolution without much fuss.

Questioners question all expectations. They’ll do something if they think it makes sense, so they’re making everything an inner expectation. They tend to resist anything arbitrary, inefficient, unfair.

Obligers readily meet outer expectations, but they struggle to meet inner expectations. This was like a friend of mine who said, “I don’t understand it. When I was in high school, I was on the track team and I never missed track practice. Why can’t I go running now?” Well, when you had a team and a coach waiting for you, no problem, but when you’re trying to go running on your own, it’s a struggle.

And then Rebels. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner. They want to do what they want to do in their own way, in their own time. If you ask or tell them to do something, they’re very likely to resist.

So, I want to come back to Obliger. Obliger is the largest tendency for both men and women and whenever anybody’s talking about self-care, whenever anybody’s talking about not being able to put themselves first, whenever anybody’s talking about other people’s priorities, that is a huge flashing light saying that you’re talking to an Obliger, which isn’t surprising because that is the biggest tendency for both men and women.

So many, many, many people in the world are Obligers and here’s the thing. I think it’s the most important thing from my Four Tendencies framework of everything that anybody’s really responded to. If an Obliger wants to meet an inner expectation but is struggling, which by definition they are. They are not having trouble meeting the work deadline. They are not having trouble showing up for Carpool. They are not having trouble responding to the friend’s email, but they are not able to go to the Yoga class. They’re not able to spend an hour reading on the sofa. They’re not able to go get the massage even though they got a gift certificate. The solution, the one thing that works, the absolutely crucial but very easy to provide solution, is outer accountability.

To meet inner expectations, Obligers must have outer accountability. So, if you want to read, join a book group. If you want to exercise, take a class, workout with a trainer, workout with a friend who’s annoyed if you don’t show up. Think of your duty to be a role model for other people. Think about your future self. Well, Gretchen right now doesn’t want to do it, but future Gretchen is going to be so disappointed. That’s what can work for Obligers.

But what you were talking about is something called Obliger Rebellion. This is when Obligers meet, meet, meet expectations, then suddenly they snap and they say, “This I will not do and this is over. I’m finished. I’ve had it!” And sometimes it’s small like, “I’m going to walk out of the house for three hours but I am going to leave you in like a safe way.” But sometimes it’s huge and dramatic. It can be things like ending a 30-year friendship, getting a divorce, walking out the door and going to work for a competitor. Obligers who are in Obliger Rebellion, feel resentful, taken advantage of, unheard, like expectations have just become too burdensome.

It’s meant to protect Obligers just the way it protected you. You needed that solitude. You were starved for silence. You had to get it. So Obliger Rebellion allowed you to feel like, “You know what? I’m out of here.” It gave you that energy. It exploded you out of your everyday life.

But it can also be very destructive because a lot of times Obligers don’t feel in control of it. They will compare themselves to like a volcano erupting or a balloon bursting. It can often seem inexplicable to other people. People with other tendencies often don’t understand this, and they’ll say things like, “Well, I don’t understand. If you didn’t want to do it, what did you say you would do it?” Or like, “Well, I don’t understand why you didn’t say something about it six months ago. Why didn’t you just say this is what you want? What’s the big deal?” And so, it can have reputational consequences.

Obligers themselves will often say that they feel like they’re acting out of character. They don’t understand why they’re responding in the way they are and they’re often very relieved to realize that there’s a word for this – Obliger Rebellion.

It’s a very, very common pattern. It has a good side and a bad side. It is definitely something, though, that should be paid close attention to. It’s an important warning sign. It can be very helpful, but if it goes too far it can have negative consequences. People who are Obligers or are around Obligers want to watch out for that feeling of building resentment, building anger, building feeling like it’s all too much, because once Obliger Rebellion starts (as far as I can see as I keep talking to Obligers about their experience of Obliger Rebellion) it seems like it just has to run its course. Once it starts, you can’t shut it off. It just goes until it’s done and it can go a long time. Sometimes it’s short, sometimes it’s long.

ALLIE: That is so interesting to me. And you just addressed like every mom. That’s so important. And when you were talking I was getting, I don’t know, mad. Why isn’t this more out there? Why isn’t this more talked about? That’s so important. It’s so huge. Oh my gosh. That was really profound.  

GRETCHEN: The book, The Four Tendencies, is all about this because each of the tenancies has patterns that, once you know the pattern, you’re like, “This is so obvious. I know a million people who are exactly like this. I’ve seen this all the time. I just didn’t know it was a thing.  Or this is just my private pathology. I didn’t know other people felt like that.”

I’m married to a Questioner and one of the things that you see in Questioners often is that they don’t like to answer questions. It’s weird. Like my husband, if I said to my husband, “What are you making for dinner?” He’ll say, “Food.” Not because he’s a jerk, but then I found out this is a thing among his tendency. A lot of Questioners are like that and so now I don’t take it as personally. I’m like, “He’s not jerking my chain to annoy me because he thinks it’s funny.” This is just a Questioner thing.

Once you know it’s an Obliger thing, you’re like, “Okay, well how do I, how do I get in front of this now? Because maybe I just want to understand what’s happening to me better.”

ALLIE: It’s so, so powerful to understand yourself more fully and understand the people that you live with more fully. I love that.

I’ll link to that book for you guys who are listening and I’m definitely going to pick that up. I think that could be really powerful too for raising your children.

GRETCHEN: Oh yeah. Well, and it’s funny because I’ll talk to people and in a second I’ll be like, “Oh, I think I know what you’re dealing with.” People will often say to me, “I don’t understand it because my son is really smart and he does really well on the test, but then he refuses to do the homework.” And I’m like, “Oh, I bet he’s a Questioner because Questioners are like, ‘Well, I’ll learn for a test because that makes sense to me, but this is a waste of my time to write this dumb book report so I’m not going to do it.’” And then I’m like, “There’s a solution for that, which is if you just explain to a Questioner, whether they’re an adult or a child, why you’re asking them to do it, you’re going to get a much better result.”

I just talked to a guy two days ago where he’s like, “Oh, I played soccer all through high school, but I played goalie and I had a coach who was like, ‘Everybody has to run sprints.’” He said, “It doesn’t make sense for me to do this cardio sprint workout because I’m the goalie; I should have goalie-type workouts that are for my position.” And the coach was like, “I’m the coach and I say everybody does it.” And he’s like, “You know what? That doesn’t make sense to me; I quit.” I’m like, “That is totally a Questioner because it’s like, “It doesn’t make sense to me. I’m out of here.” But if the coach had said, “Oh, but let me tell you, I’ve been studying the methods of the Olympic teams and what they’ve shown is that your reflex time is totally a function of your cardio” Blah, blah, blah… then the kid would have been like, “Okay, cool. I just wanted to know there was a reason here.”

Or like a Rebel Child. You know Rebel children – they want to do what they want to do in their own way, in their own time. And I remember hearing from an Upholder mother who said, “How do I make my five-year-old rebel daughter realize that there’s some things you just have to do? Like you have to wash your hands after you use the potty?” And I laughed and said, “You don’t have to wash your hands after you use the potty. You absolutely do not have to do that.” And that little girl’s figured it out and you’ve got to make her want to do that for her own reasons. She’s got to choose to do that because you can’t make a rebel do anything they don’t want to do. But there’s ways to deal with that very effectively, once you understand how they’re approaching the world, which is very different.

Like as an Upholder, the Rebel type is like the opposite of mine. It’s very hard for me to understand the rebel point of view. But now that I understand it, I see how there’s so much power there. I’ve learned so much about everything from understanding how Rebels see the world because it’s the opposite of the way I see the world. It’s blown my mind wide open.

I think it really can help, especially when there’s conflict. “Why are you behaving this way? Oh, well, maybe there’s a very simple explanation.”

ALLIE: Yeah, and we get so caught up in our own minds, our own bubbles that we only see the world the way we see the world. I love getting outside of that box and opening up your worldview and your perspective to other people. It’s mind-blowing every time.

Are you familiar with the enneagram? We aren’t huge fans of the Myers Briggs. I feel like there’s some things that didn’t really fit us. And so, we did that one and it was so funny as a “2” to see why would you ever respond that way to that situation? I was clicking the answers while he was telling me what he would respond to the questions and I was like, “I can’t click that. That’s ridiculous.” It was so funny. You just get stuck in your own way.

GRETCHEN: I think that is so true and it’s so hard to remember that other people just don’t see things the way we do. You’re kind of like the world is the world, the situation is the situation, but people just are profoundly different in how they see things.

For instance, a good example is Obligers need outer accountability in order to meet outer and inner expectations and so it’s very helpful for them to have outer accountability and of course a lot of things in life kind of automatically give you outer accountability. But I remember talking to a Questioner mother and she said, “Oh, I realized that I’ve been giving my son bad advice.” She had a 20-something son who wanted to take the GRE, that’s the graduate exam that you take to go to graduate school. And he was kept saying to her, “Mom, I need to take a class to study for the GRE.” And she said, “Oh no, honey, if it’s important to you to do well on the test, you can just buy the book and study on your own.”

No. See, he’s an Obliger and he was saying to her, “Mom, I need outer accountability. I need to go to a class. I need to have a schedule. I need to have a professor. I need to have student study groups.” That’s accountability. But she was giving him bad advice because she was giving him the advice that would work for a Questioner.

Like when I studied for the Bar, I just got a bunch of tapes and did them in my kitchen. I didn’t need accountability and that’s very useful to know. If you don’t need accountability, it can save you a lot of time and energy because you can just do it on your own.

But when people say they need accountability, help them get it. A lot of times they don’t realize they need it, but if they know they need it, get them the accountability because why not?

Or like Rebels often resist accountability. If they feel like you’re looking over their shoulder, they won’t do it. So, you’ve got to back off and not hold them accountable. That might make things worse if you’re trying to hold them accountable. But, of course, if you’re an Obliger parent with a Rebel child, your instincts could lead you into disaster because you keep trying to give them what you think they need and it’s just exactly the opposite of what they need.

ALLIE: It makes so much sense why there is so much conflict and why you can live with a person and be married to a person for decades and still have disagreements and confusion about why would you do that? Or why after 20 years, why are you still this way? That was so helpful. I definitely want to just end there. That was so, so amazing.

Thank you so much! Okay, so we’re going to link to all your books and your podcast of course, but is there anything that you want to say if people want to connect with you? Is there a social media platform you favor or anything?

GRETCHEN: I’m all over the place. Linkedin, Instagram, Youtube, Facebook. I have a weekly Ask Gretchen Rubin Live on Facebook. That’s a ton of fun.

I’m everywhere as Gretchen Rubin and I love to connect with people, with their questions, their insights, their observations, their illustrations, so get in touch. I’d love to hear from people.

Again, if you want to take the quiz to find out what your tendency is. It’s on my site, Gretchen I think 1.3-1.4 million people now have taken this quiz. It’s really very short. It’s free. It’s fun and I do think people are finding it helpful because like you say, when you know how to manage yourself, then you can make your life happier, healthier, more productive, more creative because you know how to do it in a way that’s right for you. And when you’re trying to help other people be happier, you can do it in a way that’s right for them. If you’re a “2” and you’re dealing with a “7”, you gotta take that into account.

ALLIE: Absolutely. I love that. We’ll link to that quiz for you guys too. Thank you so much for being here. This was great. Thank you. It was so much fun to talk to you.


This was an episode of The Purpose Show. Did you know there is an exclusive community created solely for the purpose of continuing discussions surrounding The Purpose Show episodes? And to get you to actually take action and make positive changes on the things that you learn here? Go be a part of it. To join go to

Thank you so much for tuning in. If you are ready to uplevel and really take action on the things I talk about on my show, and get step-by-step help from me, head to There are free downloads, courses, classes, and ways to learn more about what the next step might look like for you and to focus on whatever you might need help with in whatever season you are in right now.  

I am always rooting for you, friend!

See ya next time!

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