The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

More Questions for the Upholders

These categories describe how people tend to respond to expectations...

fourinawordMore questions about the Four Rubin Tendencies.

I’m still obsessed with the four categories I’ve developed–which, for lack of a better name, I’m currently calling the Four Rubin Tendencies. Or maybe I’m calling it the Rubin Character Index. Which name do you like better?

These categories describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, train for a marathon).

To learn more about the Four Rubin Tendencies, read here and here. In a nutshell:

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Upholders respond readily to both inner and outer expectations

Questioners question all expectations, but will follow expectations if they think the expectations are sensible (effectively making all expectations into inner expectations)

Rebels resist all expectations

Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

Note: When I write about this framework, people often try to match it up with existing frameworks. From  what I can see, this  exercise doesn’t work very well. Every framework captures something different, and to try to make them all equivalent makes them weaker, not stronger. Also, my framework looks at a very specific aspect of human nature: how people respond to expectations. It doesn’t purport to predict other aspects of personality, such as extroversion. Just how a person responds to expectations.

I’m still working on refining these types, and I’d love to hear what you have to say about the following questions. Obviously no one would answer all these questions, but if one strikes a particular chord with you, I’d be interested in your reaction.

–If you consider yourself a Rebel, you resist other people’s expectations. How do you feel about imposing expectations on others? Do you resist that, or is that not as difficult? For instance, how would you feel about imposing a deadline on your colleagues, or making your children do yard-work? Do you get angry or annoyed when other people don’t meet your expectations, or do you think, “No problem.”

–Along the same lines, Rebels, you probably don’t like working in a hierarchy, but maybe you can do so if you’re the boss. If you’re a Rebel in charge of other people, how do you feel about an expectation imposed by someone who works for you? Say, you’re asked by an underling to review a document. Do you feel less resistant to that expectation, because the person works for you?

– Are you chronically tardy? Often enough that people complain about it? If so, what’s your category? On the other hand, are you chronically early? What’s your category? I’m pathologically prompt, myself. If you’re chronically late/early  only in specific situations, what are those situations?

Do you find yourself not meeting an expectation from a respected source, because you’re not convinced that it’s justified? E.g., your doctor says you should take a specific medication, but you’re just not convinced it’s necessary, so you don’t. Or a colleague says you need to hand something in by Friday, but you don’t think it’s needed until the next Wednesday, so you don’t finish it. If so, what category are you in? (Obviously, no one is going to follow completely arbitrary or nonsensical expectations; I mean a situation where you believe those arguments haven’t been made.)

–Some people hate the idea of building regular habits or having a life of routine. If this describes your views, what category do you fit in? On the other hand, some people love the idea of building regular habits, and embrace routine. Like me. If this describes your views, what category do you fit in?

–A long time ago, I came across an intriguing term in the discussion of a then-boom in butler services, in a piece by Robert Frank: the “service heart.”

And many household managers talked with pride about what they call “the service heart”— the joy of giving their employers exactly what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. As butler student Dawn Carmichael told me, “I loved knowing what made my employer happy. I know that sounds weird, but making him happy made me happy.”

Would you describe yourself as having a service heart? If so, what category do you fit in?

– If you’re in a longtime relationship, what’s your category, and what’s your sweetheart’s category? I’m an Upholder, and my husband is a Questioner with a tendency to Uphold.

–Big question: If you identify as an Upholder, Questioner, Rebel, or Obliger, how do you feel about your category? Do you like belonging in it? Do you wish you were in a different category?

Despite the drawbacks, I love being an Upholder and wouldn’t want to be in a different category, though with time and (I hope) greater wisdom I’ve learned to be more of a Questioner (this is something that my husband’s example has helped me to do better). But an Upholder friend told me he doesn’t like being an Upholder, because of our craving for gold stars.

Your responses and observations welcome! You may think I talk about this a lot on the blog, but that’s nothing to how much I talk about it in real life.

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Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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