In which I’m surprised by my own personality

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I think my love of Gretchen Rubin’s work is well documented in this space. I learn so much from her books and I have definitely encouraged others to read them as well!


Her newest book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), is no exception!

In this one, Rubin posits that there are four personality tendencies based on how you react to internal and external factors. That is, are you motivated by internal pressures or external? Both? None? Based on this, you have a personality trait: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel.

There’s a quiz at the beginning of the book (and you can find it here if you’re interested. You ARE) so that you can find out where you land before you read the rest of the book.

Basically the Four Tendencies break down thus:

  • Upholder (responds well to external and internal expectations, has no trouble making time for themselves and achieving things others expect from them)
  • Questioner (responds well to internal obligations, will only achieve those things that make sense to them, you have to convince a questioner that something should be done)
  • Obliger (responds well to external obligations, likely to burn out because they don’t say no and don’t make time for themselves)
  • Rebel (doesn’t respond to external or internal obligations, only do things they WANT to do, if you tell them to do something they automatically don’t want to)

There is also some overlap – you can be an Upholder with Obliger tendencies or a Rebel with Questioner tendencies. Each chapter breaks down a tendency and then how to deal with it if you are one, are in a relationship with one, have a child who is one or work with one.

As ever, Rubin’s work is accessible and so interesting. I learned so much about myself, my relationship, the people I work with. I’ve loaned the book out twice already (once to my manager!) and forced so many people to take the quiz! I thought I was an Obliger but it turns out I’m a REBEL! Basically this means that I don’t respond to any factors, I only do things when I WANT to. Very, very true. When I was reading the Rebel chapter, I had to laugh because it said that IF a Rebel was in a long term relationship, it was with an Obliger. Turns out, my husband is an Obliger.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in learning more, I really recommend this one. It’s an easy read – 220 pages. You can feel Rubin’s enthusiasm for the work, she includes anecdotes from people she’s encountered and you can really start to see the people around you in the tendencies as you read. I read this sometime last month and I still think about it all the time.


2015 TBR Pile Challenge: Happier at Home

When people ask me what book has had a lasting impact on me, has changed the way I see the world, I always mention Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Reading that book illustrated to me that I could be active about my own happiness, that the only person that could change my happiness quota was me.

Sounds fairly straightforward, but I’d never realized it before. I also really appreciated her practical approach to happiness – her book was full of simple every day things that anyone could do to make themselves happier: make your bed, sing in the morning, clear up clutter for 10 minutes before you go to bed.

I recently started listening to her podcast too and recommend it to anyone interested in her ideas – they are just 20 minutes and a great way to get introduced to her work if you haven’t already had the pleasure.

I meant to read Rubin’s follow up, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life, as soon as it came out but never got around to it. But then I added it to my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge (hosted by Roof Beam Reader) list and suddenly voila! Crossed off the list! happier

This book is an easily digestible read – I finished it in about 3 hours. In it, Rubin decides to embark on another, home-focused, happiness project after realizing that time was going by really quickly and she wanted to make sure she enjoyed the here and now. Rubin’s daughters, 11 and 6 at the time of writing, are growing up quickly and she realizes that it will all be over too soon. She resolves to make an effort to enjoy the moment, to be more mindful so that when the time has passed she will feel like she actually enjoyed it fully while it was happening.

But of course, in true Gretchen Rubin fashion, she isn’t content to just make these plans and hope that she will just start being more present. She comes up with a schedule and concrete ideas for how to actually achieve this. Each month she will focus on one aspect of her home life and come up with a few ideas of things that she can actually do to measure her success. In turn, Rubin concentrates on possessions, marriage, parenthood, interior design, time, body, family, neighbourhood and the now. In the month that she looks at her marriage, understanding that she can only make changes within herself and not force them on her husband, she resolves to kiss in the morning and at night, make the positive argument and take driving lessons. When she looks at family, she has an uncomfortable conversation with her parents about living wills, plans nice small surprises and collaborates with her sister.

I continue to learn so much from Rubin. I’ve read criticisms of her that she and her husband actually have piles of money, live on the Upper East Side in NYC and have loads of help so it’s easy for her to run on about what other people should do to make themselves happier. I disagree completely. Rubin never tells anyone to do anything. In fact she stresses constantly that these are the things that she does that make her happier but that it’s different for everyone. And while she’s writing about doing all these small, simple things to make her happier, she shares with her readers the research she has done into happiness. Does the fact that she and her husband don’t really have to worry about money make any of these things less worth learning from her? No.

I learn so much from these books and this time I’m sad that I borrowed this from the library. As I’m sitting here writing this post, flipping back through the book I’m reminded of how many times I read something out loud to my husband or went “hmmm.” The thing about Rubin’s books is that one of her biggest commandments is to “Be Gretchen”, meaning that she knows herself very well and understands that something that works for a friend, won’t necessarily add to her own happiness and she’s very much ok with that. This commandment was a big part of her first book and it played a big role in this follow up. The other one that was a big part of this book was that it’s not enough to love, you must prove it. That is, the people in your life probably know that you love them, but showing them is better.

Here are some of the other things that stood out for me as surprising or illuminating:

  • People with sisters are happier.
  • The human response to smell is not innate, it’s learned.
  • Married people actually treat their spouses with less civility than near strangers.
  • We react more strongly to an unexpected pleasure than a planned one.

Podcast Break: Happier with Gretchen Rubin

I didn’t think that I was a podcast person. I’m not really a radio listener, not even a music person. I listen to music for background noise because having grown up in a big, noisy family, I don’t care for silence. But then Serial happened and everyone was talking about it and to prevent myself from feeling left out (something I despise), I got in on it. And found that I actually liked listening to it. It took a different kind of concentration for sure – you do have to commit yourself to giving it your full attention, you can’t zone out like you do when you listen to your favourite album and it’s definitely not something I can listen to while I’m doing something else. But these are all things that I liked about it.

That said, once Serial was over (can we really call that an ending though?), I didn’t exactly dedicate myself to finding a substitute podcast to listen to.

And then happily, one found me.

I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin’s since I read her book, The Happiness Project. For the uninitiated, maybe it sounds like a super hokey self-help book but I promise you it isn’t. In it, Rubin comes up with all of these brilliant yet deceptively simple everyday things that you can do to up your daily happiness quotient. She started looking at ways to up her happiness levels because despite living in a city she loved, with a husband she adored, two healthy children and a job she loved, she found that she wasn’t happy and she wanted to do something about it. For a year she spent each month focusing on different parts of her life to try and change her levels of happiness. But she does it really simply by cleaning out closets and tidying clutter before bed and being nice to her husband. Simple things we could all do if we thought about it.

But I know. We all have thirty thousand books already on our TBR lists and this one might already live on it but there’s no guarantee that we will get to it any time soon.

Well happily, Rubin has teamed up with her sister (aka the “happiness guinea pig”) Elizabeth Craft and created the Happier Podcast. It’s nice and short (around 20 minutes) and they talk about some of the same things Rubin wrote about in her book. Each episode includes a tip to try at home, a question that gets you looking at your own habits (eg. are you an abstainer or a moderator?) and then one or the other sister gives herself a happiness demerit for doing something that compromises their happiness and then the other gives a happiness gold star for something that has really contributed to their happiness over the course of the week.

Super simple, completely brilliant. Two episodes are currently available and I’m eagerly anticipating the third one. Who doesn’t want to find ways to be happier?

Speaking of eager anticipation, Rubin has a new book coming out this month that looks at our habits: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. It’s on the list, along with Happier at Home (which is part of my TBR Pile challenge so will get read at some point this year).


Celebrity Lifestyle: Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve mentioned often that I am a pupil at the Lainey Gossip School of Celebrity Studies. I love her take on fame and the celebrity eco-system and she’s taught me to take People.com with a helping handful of salt.

I also adored Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I think I talk about it less on the blog but in my real life I’m always telling people about that book and how simple she made it sound to change your own happiness quotient.

Enter Rachel Bertsche’s memoir, Jennifer, Gwyneth and Me: The Pursuit of Happiness One Celebrity at a Time. It’s basically the perfect amalgamation of the two!


After being laid off and deciding to start working from home, Rachel Bertsche starts to feel kind of sloppy. She’s not exercising like she used to, she spends her days in sweat pants because that’s the whole point of working from home and her meals are mainly of the frozen variety. She’s also a celebrity connoisseur and wonders if emulating her favourite celebrities will make her feel more fabulous and together. She decides to find out by emulating Jennifer Aniston’s fitness habits, Gwyneth’s (there’s only one) kitchen prowess, Sarah Jessica Parker’s fashion sense, Jennifer Garner’s approach to marriage and Beyonce’s…well having it all.

While Bertsche’s celebrity worship was a little too eager for me sometimes (Lainey has trained me well, I’m snarky) I really enjoyed this book. I love people’s personal transformations and I really enjoyed the celebrity aspect of it; I thought it was a really clever idea. She would spend some time researching the celebrity’s approach to their facet of life and then implement a few key rules: Don’t eat shit; invest in one statement piece; don’t talk smack about your husband in public.

And it worked! She did start to feel more content, more together, healthier. She read that Jennifer Aniston does bicep curls when she watches TV so she started doing that (I did it last night – excellent idea). She started dressing up for herself, even if she wasn’t going to leave the apartment. She became more conscious of the food she was buying and learned that she loved hosting a dinner party.

But it all also took a lot of TIME. It’s part of Jennifer Aniston’s job to look good. For the rest of us – it’s a struggle to get it all in. By the time Bertsche got to Beyonce and trying to incorporate it all, it was tough to get in the workouts, the cooking time, meditation and looking fabulous. But she was still trying and when she got in some as opposed to none, it still meant she felt a lot better about herself.

Bertsche’s chronicle of her struggle to conceive was an unexpected part of the memoir. As they are trying to get pregnant and ultimately go through IVF, Bertsche uses her celebrity methods to try and cope. Both processes kind of line up perfectly actually – when they are waiting to hear if they were successful, she is trying to emulate Julia Roberts’ calm and meditating which enables her to relax at least some of the time.

I’m probably not going to mirror my life on any celebrities ever. But I appreciated the insightful journey while Bertsche did. And I’m going to keep it up with those TV bicep curls because if it’s good enough for Jennifer Aniston…


Coming Soon

Even though it’s likely to be a while before I can rationalize buying a new book (the library has become my new best friend), I still like to know what’s coming out so that I can add things to my list. I’m obsessive about my list (confession: I have a book journal). This morning I saw that one of my favourite authors, Marian Keyes, has a new book coming out. Which made me curious about who else is about to release a new title.

So I did a little research. We’re heading into the Fall so you know some good ones are going to be released shortly. Here is a (by no means complete) list of some of the books I will be looking out for (and lusting after):

First up: Marian Keyes’ The Mystery of Mercy Close. Those of you that have read any of the books featuring the Walsh sisters will be thrilled to hear that this newest book features Helen Walsh. Helen! The baby! The one that’s always up to no good finally gets her own book! If you want to reacquaint yourself with any of the other Walsh sisters, check out (in no particular order): Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, Angels, or Anybody Out There. In the meantime, Keyes is releasing an e-book: Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family. The Mystery of Mercy Close is set to be released by Penguin Canada on October 30 2012.

Ken Follett is set to release his second book in the Century Trilogy in September 2012. For us Canadians, the date is September 18th. Mark it down. Winter of the World will pick up the stories of the five interrelated families – in Russia, America, Germany, Wales and Britain – that we encountered in Fall of Giants. Ken Follett is a master story teller of epic tales and I cannot wait for Winter of the World to come out. Incidentally, if you were a fan of The Pillars of the Earth miniseries, the sequel series, World Without End will start airing on Showtime September 4th.

Nearly three years ago, Gretchen Rubin showed us small practical ways that we could increase our personal happiness. She’s at it again, this time tackling bigger issues when it comes to the relationships with those closest to you. Happier At Home still focuses on small practical ways to increase happiness, but in terms of bigger issues like raising happy children, maintaining a loving relationship with one’s spouse and how one can prevent a smart phone from taking over. I loved The Happiness Project and I’m looking forward to September 4th when Happier At Home will be available in stores.

Obviously I’m still anxiously awaiting the release of JK Rowing’s adult novel, The Casual Vacancy. In case you’d forgotten, it’s due to be released on September 29th.

Finally, in case you’re jonesing for a new title to run out and get right now, Philippa Gregory has released The Kingmaker’s Daughter, her first sister novel since The Other Boleyn Girl. Although I have been underwhelmed by some of her more recent releases (The Red Queen, Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen all come to mind), when I see her name, I can’t help myself. The ‘Kingmaker,’ Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick was always such a shady character and whenever sisters and marriage and thrones are involved, well, Gregory tends to be at her best.

What new book are you most looking forward to?