The Four Tendencies: Which Personality Are You?

Why knowing your “tendency” is key to building a better life

In high school, we would gather around on Fridays, and ask each other questions from the latest personality quiz in My Guy! magazine (think of it as the Brittish version of Cosmo and Teen Beat combined, cringe!). “What Kind of Friend Are You?” was the typical revelation, and the rather obvious questioning would be:

You go to a party and want to leave, but your best friend doesn’t. Do you…

a) wait until your friend is ready to go—you don’t want to lose your only friend, do you?
b) ask her if she will compromise and leave in 20 minutes,
or c) leave your friend there. Who cares what she wants after all?

Depending on your answer, you were then judged in the eyes of your fellow teens as a complete loser, pretty normal, or incredibly cool.

I still love personality assessments today and can cite my Myers-Briggs type, my North Node, my Love Language, my Enneagram, and a host of other traits and tendencies revealed to me through taking tests. It’s not that I’m self-involved (if you don’t believe me, I can tell you my Myers-Briggs type), but rather, I want to understand myself and people better.

In every test, I’ve also always learned something surprising about myself, and have been reminded that not everyone is the same as me—apparently something we people with a Libra north node often forget.

So, with all these quizzes, I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that I am a Questioner—or so Gretchen Rubin tells me. The best-selling author of The Happiness Project has been working the last few years on developing The Four Tendencies—four personality profiles that “reveal how to make your life better (and other people’s lives better too).”

In 13 short questions presented in her book, we can identify the answer to what Rubin believes is the main question: How do I respond to expectations? Are we an Upholder, a Questioner, an Obliger, or a Rebel?

It’s not that one is better than the other, but rather, says Rubin, by figuring out “how to harness the strengths of our tendencies, and counteract the weaknesses” we can build a better life that works for us.

She lays out how each tendency manifests in the world with uncanny accuracy. Questioners, for example, rarely follow health advice from an expert. I can relate. While I accept that doctors are far more qualified than I on matters of health, I often ignore their advice. We Questioners, are also prone to missing deadlines because we often think our own make more sense. An Obliger, by contrast, would always hit deadlines made by others, but rarely ones they set for themselves.

Why is this helpful to know? Because, says Rubin, armed with this knowledge I could simply ask a doctor more questions that would convince me of their recommendation for treatment. I could also recognize that my actions around deadlines would be frustrating to those who set them—particularly a boss, and particularly a boss who is an Upholder whose motto, points out Rubin, is “Why didn’t you just handle this the way I told you to?”

As we read through the Tendencies, we begin to see that “a person’s behavior isn’t aimed at us personally,” says Rubin, and she offers advice on how to better communicate with those that differ from us. As one reader writes “I’ve lived with a Rebel for the past seven years. It’s comforting to know that his way of being is as natural for him as being an Obliger is for me.” What Rubin’s Four Tendencies offers us is a chance not just to know ourselves better, but to become more tolerant of one another.


If you’d like to find out if you’re an Upholder, a Questioner, an Obliger, or a Rebel, take this quiz.


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