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

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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”?


From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.



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