The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

Do You Share the Compulsion to Take Notes?

She’s right to use the word “compulsion.”

Assay: One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: People are more alike than we think, and we’re less alike than we think.

For instance, for years, I thought that my habit of constant note-taking was quite peculiar. But since I’ve written about my love of note-taking I’ve discovered that many people share this passion.

In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion describes this drive:

The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.

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She’s right to use the word “compulsion.” I don’t have to push myself to take notes, I have to stop myself from taking too many notes.

I use a very loose method of organization. For my major topics, such as “happiness” or “Churchill,” I keep a single, giant, dedicated document. I add all relevant notes there, along with subject tags so that I can find the note later. I also have a document called “Notes” where I keep notes that don’t belong in any particular place.

For quotes, I have one document for general quotes; the other for happiness-related quotes, which I use for the Moment of Happiness, my daily emails of happiness quotes.  (If you want to get a daily happiness quote by email, sign up here.) I love having a chance to make use of the quotes I love; I wish I knew how to make use of my giant trove of non-happiness-related quotes.

For notes related to books I’m writing, I’ve wondered whether I should organize my notes better, but I do find that the action or scrolling through them and seeing odd juxtapositions of ideas helps to stimulate my own ideas and creativity. I worry that if I kept the notes in a highly structured way, I might lose some of these benefits.

How about you? Do you share this compulsion to take notes? How do you organize them?

Also ...

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Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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