When Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project spoke at World Domination Summit this past summer, she said that the key to happiness is to be more of who we are. In order to know who we are, she suggests that we ask ourselves a few key questions. Try writing down your answers to the following questions.

1. Who do you envy and why?

Gretchen says that when someone has something you want, that’s very useful information about who you want to be. Rather than focusing on the negative aspect of envy or the judgment you might put on yourself for feeling that way, focus on being grateful for this additional information about what you value and care about.

2. What do you lie about?

Anything we try to hide is a big red flag. The lie is a disconnect between your behavior and your values.

3. What would you do for fun?

It is a sad fact about happiness that when you say to adults, “What would you do for fun?” many adults are truly mystified. HINT: If you don’t know the answer, answer this- What did you do for fun when you were 10 years old?

4. Are you an abstainer or a moderator?

Think of something you find very tempting- chocolate, cigarettes, sex, alcohol, Cheetos, shopping- whatever.

Gretchen says there are two types of people- abstainers and moderators. To avoid temptation, abstainers have to go cold turkey. They can’t even get started with a bag of potato chips or they’ll eat the whole bag. Moderators, on the other hand, can eat just one square of dark chocolate and be happy, and if they abstain completely, they get totally cranky.  Moderators feel rebellious if they’re not allowed to have just a little bit.

Since part of what makes people unhappy is trying to resist temptation, it helps to know whether you’re an abstainer or a moderator. If you know yourself and your own nature- and you OWN it- you’re much better prepared to handle temptation. In other words, just accept your own nature and act accordingly.

5. What’s the nature of your relationship to the expectations of yourself and others?

When you are trying to change a habit, you’re trying to impose an expectation upon yourself. But there are two kinds of expectations- outer expectations (work deadlines, a request from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (what you desire for yourself.)

Gretchen explains that there are 4 categories of expectations:

• Upholders

These people respond well to both outer and inner expectations without much fuss. They just do as they’re told, whether their motivations come from internal or external expectations. These are your classic “goody two shoes,” who follow rules pretty blindly. If a sign is posted, they will obey it. If they set a New Year’s Resolution, they’ll just do it.

Upholders are motivated by fulfillment. They feel good when they meet expectations. They hate to be blamed or let people down. They want to know the rules, and they’re great rule followers, but they’re unhappy if they don’t know what is expected of them. They’re good self-starters. If they make up their minds to do something, they do it. But the dark side is that if upholders don’t know what’s expected of them- if things are ambiguous, they feel paralyzed. There’s a grinding quality, a relentlessness, to upholders. They need to stay within their comfort zones to feel happy, and that includes knowing what is expected of them.

• Questioners

These people question all expectations, whether internal or external. In order to change a behavior, they must be persuaded. If their questions are answered to their own satisfaction, they can be persuaded to meet an expectation. If the motivations for change don’t make sense to them, forget it!

Questioners can have either upholder tendencies or rebel tendencies, but most lean one way or another.

Questioners wake up in the morning and think “What needs to get done today?” They want to know why they should do something. The questioner is saying, “Why are we doing this at all?” They love information and research. If they accept an expectation, they’re good at fulfilling it. They endorse everything internally if they sign on. But their upside is also their downside. If you don’t get a questioner on board, they’re not going to meet expectations. It’s hard for them to act if they feel they don’t have enough information. This can make them seem totally arbitrary.


These people resist all expectations, inner or outer. A rebel wants to do what a rebel wants to do. If you set an expectation for a rebel and tell them to do something, they’ll actually go out of their way to disobey you and fail to meet the expectation, just to prove a point. The upside of the rebels is that they’re willing to think and behave outside the box. They can be creative nonconformists who push the envelope. But they can be incredibly frustrating! Gretchen says rebels can be manipulated by challenging them and suggesting that they CAN’T do something. Tell a rebel she can’t do something and she’ll be all, “Well, I’ll show you. Ha!”

Tell a rebel, “I don’t think your team can get that done by Friday!” Then watch them be ready by Wednesday.

Although rebels are not motivated by following the rules, rebels may occasionally (and shockingly) choose to do something purely out of love for you- not because you asked them to do it, but because they love you. But not always. So don’t get your hopes up.

• Obligers

These people readily meet outer expectations but have a hard time meeting inner expectations. So they’ll go out of their way to please others, but they do at the expense of what is in their own best interests. These are the typical “people pleasers” who sell themselves out for the approval of others.

Obligers wake up and think “What do I HAVE to do today?” They are motivated by external accountability. They’re great to have around- great team members, great friends, great family. They hate to make mistakes. They bear the brunt of it on themselves. They hate being people pleasers but they can’t stand to let someone down. An obliger needs to build in external accountability for inner expectations. So if they’ve made a New Years Resolution, they need to tell everyone by blogging about their intentions, for example. Then they’re motivated to please those they’ve promised, even though they’re really serving themselves. Obligers are not good self-starters. They need deadlines, coaches, late fees, check ins. They’re also very susceptible to burn out. Everyone else takes advantage of the obligers. So if you’re in a relationship with an obliger, be mindful of that.

Certain combinations of people and jobs work better together. Rebels are almost always married to obligers. Upholders must be in relationship with upholders or questioners with upholder tendencies. Otherwise, it’s a disaster in the making!

In the end, we can only build a happy life on the foundation of our own true nature. To learn to understand yourself is the adventure of a life- to love ourselves, to accept ourselves, and to live in accordance with your true nature.


I’m definitely a questioner with upholder tendencies. What about you? Did you learn anything from answering these questions? Tell us who you are in the comments!

Trying to be myself,

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  1. What an amazing article! New to your blog, but I won’t be a stranger! Thanks for sharing; so much to mull over! (I tried to be a moderator, but with ‘trigger’ foods, at least, I MUST be an abstainer. Hard to accept, but true.)

  2. Questioner with Rebel tendencies. Thank you for the post. I loved it. I wonder how this shapes our children?

  3. Hmmm… do you think it’s possible for people to evolve in terms of the expectations thing? As a kid I was most definitely an obliger – but the thing is, I was miserable. Then after a few life altering experiences I became a complete and total rebel. These days I’ve chilled out a bit and am more of a questioner with rebel tendencies. Not sure how that jives with the theory that these things are part of our essential nature, but it seems to be the case for me.

    But one thing that is pretty much an unwavering truth is that I am most definitely NOT a moderator… and sometimes don’t do a very good job of abstaining either! 🙂 I hate those people who can be happy with one square of dark chocolate, because once it enters my grubby little hands, the whole chocolate bar is goin’ down the gullet!

  4. Love the article! It feels like I an an upholder, and that explains why I couldn’t make a go of it with my rebel boyfriend! we were constantly butting heads about expectations and yes, rules. 🙂 thanks for sharing your work.

  5. Wow – how insightful! I am definitely an abstainer and a full-blown, to the core Obliger. You mention that almost always Rebels are married to Obligers, and I can certainly confirm that! My ex and both of my sons are definitely Rebels, and quite honestly it is very frustrating! How do obligers learn to uphold boundaries and keep from being taken advantage of without losing our essential, loving nature?

  6. I seem to have a bit of all four of them depending on what is going on around me. So I would be an upquestrebliger. Try saying that five times quickly. 🙂

  7. I am a cross between a questioner and an upholder.Prove to me that something is worth doing or having and I’ll go along with you but if it doesn’t make sense to me forget it.

  8. These are all great questions that everyone who does not know themselves well should cogitate upon. The spectrum of comments was interesting, especially Cat’s.

  9. This post made for great discussion with my husband and helped me see myself more clearly. We are both questioners with upholder tendencies. But I can see that I also swing toward rebel…oh yeah?…and the obliger…wanting to please and be accepted. Impose a list of duties on me and I’m out the door, let me come up with the list and I’ll work myself very hard to get it done perfectly.

    This was so helpful especially this week because I was dealing with a work situation with people who are reacting in ignorance and fear. This blog helped me understand my reactions and get grounded.

    Great post, Lissa !

  10. Hello, Lissa.

    I got a call to write to you while reading your blog (every single post, actually) and I’m here answering it.

    Important: I’m from Brazil and, therefore, English is not my first
    language. I apologize in advance for any misspellings or mistakes.

    So… I’m Ariela, 23 years old, from Brazil. I’m a physician, actually,
    just graduated from Medical school in Feb. 12. I always loved taking
    care of people, nurturing, healing, loving, providing, embracing… Well, I
    feel like I could be a mother for every single one in the world. Funny
    thing is Medical school was none about that, as you know too well. I
    won’t explore the details, as we say here in Brazil “I would be trying
    to teach the praying to the priest”, but I felt really betrayed, fooled,
    hurted and discouraged by Medical school. I barely could finish,
    actually, and I freaked out couple times during the 6 years of course. I
    developed eating disorders due the anxiety, my self steem issues got
    really bad, I thought I would never make it. Well, I did. But I
    completely hated my white coat.

    My dad, also a really conventional physician (and very close-minded, may
    I add), just like yours, forced me into this graduation course. I
    considered being a nutritionst and a psychologist, but none of those
    were good enough for him. He also manipulated me, my sister and my
    mother through money restricition (he is the only provider), into doing
    whatever he wanted. He faked being comprehensive, supportive, altruist,
    but it always resumed in he forcing us to do whatever he wanted.

    Close to the end of the course, I got really into healthy eating, and
    started researching all I could about that subject. Then I felt I was
    missing something, and just about couple months started studying abou
    the psychology of eating, the body-mind relationship, the role of
    spirituality in our lives. So I enrolled in a Health and Wellness Coach
    training program, at IIN, in February.

    I’m getting closer and closer to my spiritual being, I’m learning to let
    my intuition guide me, I’m learning how to listen to the universe. I
    even feel like I’m getting to know my own Sebastian!

    Also in February my family went into a really breakthough as I stepped
    away from my father’s manipulating and controlling, and we got in a
    really huge fight. Now he won’t provide for me or my mother anymore, and
    must be just waiting for my sister to graduate.

    Here’s the current picture: I’m a doctor, but I just don’t know what to
    do with this degree. I desperately need start to make some money, so I
    can help my mom and my sis. I have a debt of U$ 6000 (Here in Brazil, that means A HELLA LOT of money). I feel like it
    would be almost an agression to work at conventional practice or
    something like that. I feel like I can’t call myself a doctor, not even
    imagine that! I’m afraid to present myself like that, ’cause I feel
    completely like a fish out of water (and Medicine DOES feel like a
    fundamentalist religion to me).

    But you know what? I’m kind aware of my big why. Yes. While being
    trough all of this pain, I also learned to love myself more. I learned
    my value, I learnd that I am strong. I learned that I can’t let my
    appearence, my weight or my lifestyle define who I am. I came closer to
    mi Inner Pilot Light, I learned how to listen to it. And I feel very
    deeply that I need to help other women to learn all of that. Behind all
    career, food, relationship or any other kind of issue there’s a self
    love issue. There’s a disconnection between who I am and who I’m meant
    to be. There’s a weakned contact with The Source. A misunderstandment of
    the inner being. And I want to help heal that, especially working on
    the relationship between women and food. I absolutely love this topic.

    I feel like this describes me better than I could ever do it myself:

    “Most of us feel a sense of mission involving a major transformation
    in human experience, a strong sense that whatever that mission is, it’s
    getting closer in time, a compulsion to master certain skills in
    preparation for this half-understood personal mission, high levels of
    empathy, an urgent desire to lessen the suffering for humans, animals,
    and plants, and a loneliness stemming from a sense of difference,
    despite being generally social. According to Martha, other common
    characteristics that typify us include high levels of creativity, an
    intense love of animals, a difficult, often abusive or traumatic early
    life, an intense connection to the natural world, resistance to religion
    accompanied by a strong sense of the spiritual, high levels of
    emotional sensitivity accompanied by a predilection for anxiety,
    addiction, or eating disorders, a sense of connection with particular
    cultures, languages, or geographic regions, a brain-centered disability
    like dyslexia, retardation, or autism, a gregarious personality
    contrasting with the need for periods of solitude, a persistent or
    recurring physical illness, and a tendency to dream about healing

    But I don’t know HOW to do it. I don’t know IF I can do it. I’m not a
    psychologist or a spiritual healer, I’m just a doctor. I don’t know IF I
    can do this being just a doctor. I don’t even know if I can do it being
    a coach. I am afraid I took too many wrong paths. So I don’t know which
    could be my next step, I don’t know if I’m allowed to have a next step
    right now or even in ten years. I am lost. But I got this call to write
    to you, and I felt it really strong and deep in my heart and in my body.
    Yeah, I got some physical calls. So, I don’t know why I’m doing this,
    but I felt like I should.

    I want to congratulate and thank you for this amazing job you’ve been doing. Believe it or not, you are already there.


    Ariela Bello.

  11. Thanks Lissa!

    Your articles are informative and challenging. It’s better to knowingly do things direct ourselves, then to shoot blindly and hop we hit the mark.

    The only people I envy are those who stay composed and peaceful. I am better with funerals than handling the daily glitches of life. I’m sensitive and over-reactive emotionally. It especially upsets me if someone feels hurt by me. I never ever want to cause anyone grief. Therefore, I am an obliger. I want to support and care – not for my own peace of mind, but to give another person a little happy “lift”

    I am definitely a questioner. I won’t lend credence to ideas, or support to causes unless am feel fully informed. Then I put my whole weight behind it. I have had to educate my team of doctors regarding my symptoms and progress of Fibromyalgia, and other conditions. I question medications/procedures. I research everything medical, political, scientific, etc. However, I am not a rebel. I obey all rules, regulations of employers, rental management, laws of federal, state, local government. Those exist for the common good, and I gladly comply.

    I am a moderator and an abstainer, depending on the situation. I abstain from certain foods, alcohol, cigarettes, but I can eat chips or chocolates sparingly – without getting cranky. My Valentine’s or Easter chocolates sometimes get too old to finish.

    I stand up for myself when I think I am right, but know when to let go of a situation if others get contentious, regardless of who is right. At that point, it just doesn’t matter. My family doesn’t get my thinking and ways, sometimes. But they love me and accept me, as I do them.

    So, there are many blends of these characteristics. Keep giving us points to ponder and learn from.

  12. Love this post! I’ll be taking some time later to answer the questions posed, so I can really think about them. As for type, I’m definitely a questioner with a lot of rebel! And my fiance is for sure an obliger. My ex…I’d classify him as a rebel too, and wow was that disastrous!

  13. I am definitely an Obliger with Questioner tendencies. I am a people pleaser and I do try to prioritize my to do list based on what I “have to” do. I also think I lack self motivation without deadlines, which is why I’m having such a hard time getting my blog going anywhere. I have lots of intentions to do great things, but I feel stuck and bogged down by all the things I “have to” do… great read.

  14. Haha, this is perfect! I’m a total obliger merried to a total rebel 😉 Amazing

  15. I am an Obliger with Questioner tendencies. Definitely a people pleaser due to abandonment issues from childhood. I’m working on it. But I still Question why we do things and maybe even rebel on occassion. It’s a difficult way of life.

  16. I am a mix of upholder and obliger and feel like I have been swimming upstream for as long as I can remember. When thinking of the question “what do you want in life?” The question sounds so foreign to me since it probably has not been ask and if it has it was not asked very often or in any significant way.
    So I’m feeling the weight of the upstream current and I feel the tendency to let go but am cautious of where the current might take me.
    If I let go of pushing up stream, who am I then and what do I become?

  17. I’m a Rebel at heart, which has gotten me nowhere….but I am who I am.

  18. I’m a true questioner with upholder and rebel tendencies. I typically fall towards upholder, but only when it makes sense (always examining, introspecting, questioning everything – lol). Before I will align, it has to serve my inner values or invite me into action that will take my values to a higher level. There are times when I can express a strong rebel response too and that happens when my values are not being met. Although, when I am expressing rebel tendencies, I do not have the trait of a rebel, where if I’m challenged, I react with “I’ll show you,” perhaps, when I was younger there was hint of that, perhaps a smidge. As I became seasoned, my rebel tendencies, when expressed, do not have a need to prove anything to anyone. I believe who I am speaks for itself and if someone doesn’t believe I can do this or that, that’s due to their own inner challenges and subjective filters. It will not draw the result that they want. I lean toward fact or structure, regarding external expectations, and remain unmoved by emotional manipulatives. It seems by the description of a Questioner, a Questioner is a rebel first, since by nature, they must be “persuaded” to act, which means that we are inherently resistant; although, such resistance is NOT out of desire to be disagreeable. Most questioners probably desire to be upholders, but simply cannot follow the rules for the sake of following the rules. Questioners are no pushovers, but we are not rigid either. We find balance and purpose in both tendencies and express whichever one, serves our highest values. In truth, I would say, we love to be agreeable, but not for the sake of being agreeable. We have to ensure that whatever we agreeing to is pure, as best we can. We want to believe in the rules, but we aren’t naive or gullible and the rules must make sense and fit into our ideas of balance and good before we will hop on board. It has to align with what we perceive to be true and right.


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