Gretchen Rubin

In which I acknowledge that a key to happiness, for me, is taking notes.

One of my idiosyncrasies is a compulsion to take notes. I’m always copying down quotations, making odd lists, gathering examples in strange categories. I have a huge document in my computer: "Notes."

It takes a lot of time and energy, and I used to discourage this impulse in myself. It seemed pointless and self-indulgent. But following my first commandment to “Be Gretchen,” I started to let myself take notes--and take pleasure in it.

One reason to allow myself to do it is that I enjoy it. For some reason, I like acting like I'm working on a permanent research project. Also, taking notes helps me read better, with more focus and retention.

The crazy thing is that once I said to myself, "Okay, Gretchen, take all the notes you want, it doesn't matter if you need those notes for anything," I realized for the first time how USEFUL these notes have been.

How had I convinced myself otherwise? My first book, Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide, grew out of my huge body of notes on these subjects. When I had a chance to write Profane Waste about my obsession with people's destruction of their possessions, the only reason I could pack it full of fascinating examples was that I'd been taking notes for years.

So I'd been very foolish to tell myself that I was wasting my time. Note-taking just didn't look "real" to me, so it didn't register as valuable, despite the ample proof that it was.

Here's an example of the kind of notes I take. One section of my notes is a reaction to an observation by physicist Niels Bohr: “There are trivial truths and great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.”

I started playing with this idea.

--Out of sight, out of mind. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

--Birds of a feather flock together. Opposites attract.

--You’re never too old to learn. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

--“Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” Lord Chesterfield
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” G. K. Chesterton

Then I took some of my favorite “truths” to see what their opposite would hold.

--“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Tolstoy.

--“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21.

--“It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” G. K. Chesterton.

--“There is no love, there are only proofs of love.” French saying? (That’s what I remember, but haven’t been able to track it down.)

--“Happy wife, happy life.”

And look, I've found another way to use my notes: for my blog. Zoikes, why is it so hard to "Be Gretchen"?

Most people might not necessarily expected to be interested in a blog called Exceptional Dental Practice Management -- Linda Zdanowicz’s blog about her thoughts on her life and work as a dental practice administrator. But I love reading Linda’s reflections on trying to be a better person and a better dental administrator. Her thoughtful examples are drawn from the world of the dentist’s office – which is familiar enough to be understandable, but exotic enough to be interesting. Reading her blog really gives me a boost to try harder to do better, myself.

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