Just for Today, I Will Try to Live Through This Day Only

Kenneth Holmes? Frank Crane? Hugh Barrett Dobbs? Sister Mary Xavier? Sybil F. Partridge? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is an inspirational essay called “Just for Today” that I have seen on many websites. It consists of a series of suggestions or guidelines. There are many versions, but one common example begins with the following statements:

Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today I will be happy. This assumes to be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

The information I have read about the provenance of this essay is confusing and contradictory. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of closely matching text located by QI was dated 1921 in the Boston Globe. The author was Frank Crane who wrote a newspaper column called “DR CRANE SAYS”. The piece contained a set of ten daily suggestions and was titled “Just for Today” [BGFC]:

Here are ten resolutions to make when you awake in the morning.

They are Just for One Day. Think of them not as a life task but as a day’s work.

These things will give you pleasure. Yet they require will power. You don’t need resolutions to do what is easy.

1. Just for Today, I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life-problem at once. I can do some things for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep them up for a lifetime.

2. Just for Today, I will be Happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true, that “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness is from Within; it is not a matter of Externals.

3. Just for Today, I will Adjust myself to what Is, and not try to Adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come, and fit myself to them.

4. Just for Today, I will take care of my Body. I will exercise it, care for it, and nourish it, and not abuse it nor neglect it; so that it will be a perfect machine for my will.

5. Just for Today, I will try to strengthen my mind, I will study. I will learn something useful, I will not be a mental loafer all day. I will read something that requires effort, though and concentration.

6. Just for Today, I will exercise my Soul. In three ways, to wit:

(a) I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. If anybody knows of it, it will not count.

(b) I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, as William James suggests just for exercise.

(c) I will not show any one that my feelings are hurt. They may be hurt, but Today I will not show it.

7. Just for To-day, I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as possible,  talk low,  act courteously, be liberal with flattery, criticize not one bit  nor find fault with anything, and not try to regulate nor improve anybody.

8. Just for Today, I will have a Programme. I will write down just what I expect to do every hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I’ll have it. It will save me from the two pests Hurry and Indecision.

9. Just for Today, I will have a quiet half hour, all by myself, and relax. During this half hour, some time, I will think of God, so as to get a little more perspective to my life.

10. Just for Today, I will be Unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to be Happy, to enjoy what is Beautiful, to love and to believe that those I love love me.

(Copyright, 1921 by Frank Crane)

The copyright statement at the end of the column suggested that Crane was claiming authorship. (Special note: Since the text above was published in the U.S. before 1923 QI believes that the copyright has now expired and the essay is in the public domain in the U.S.) But QI is not certain that Crane originated the entire list of statements. Oddly, in 1932 a nearly identical set of ten resolutions was published in the Christian Science Monitor. However, Frank Crane’s name was not mentioned. Instead, the words were attributed to “Hugh Barret Dobbs”. This probably was a misspelling of the name of Hugh Barrett Dobbs who was a popular radio entertainer [CMHD].

Dale Carnegie, the famous advocate of self-improvement, included a version of the essay in his high-profile book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” which was first published in 1948.  Carnegie’s introductory words provided an ascription [JTDC]:

Let’s fight for our happiness by following a daily program of cheerful and constructive thinking. Here is such a program. It is entitled “Just for Today.” I found this program so inspiring that I gave away hundreds of copies. It was written by the late Sibyl F. Partridge.

Carnegie credited the essay to Partridge, but QI thinks this ascription was probably incorrect. There is a different work that was also called “Just for Today” that was published by 1880. This early piece was linked to Partridge and may have led to confusion. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1880 a periodical called “The Messenger of the Sacred Heart of Jesus” printed a piece titled “To-Day” that included the recurring phrase: “Just for to-day”. This work differed substantially from the essay given above. The piece ended with the identifier “S. M. X.”  [SJTD]:

To=Day.

Dignare, Domine, die isto, sine peccato nos custodire.

Lord, for to-morrow and its needs I do not pray;
Keep me, my God, from stain of sin, Just for to-day
Let me both diligently work And duly pray;
Let me be kind in word and deed, Just for to-day.
Let me be slow to do my will, Prompt to obey;
Help me to mortify my flesh, Just for to-day.
Let me no wrong or idle word Unthinking, say;
Set Thou a seal upon my lips, Just for to-day.
Let me in season, Lord, be grave, In season, gay;
Let me be faithful to Thy grace, Just for to-day,
And if to-day my tide of life Should ebb away,
Give me Thy sacraments divine, Sweet Lord, to-day.
In Purgatory’s cleansing fires Brief be my stay;
O bid me, if to-day I die, Go home to-day.
So, for to-morrow and its needs I do not pray;
But keep me, guide me, love me, Lord, Just for to-day
S. M. X

By 1916 the passage above (with slight alterations) had been set to music to construct a hymn that appeared in the “Goucher College Hymnal”. In the hymnal the words were attributed to Sybil F. Partridge [GHSP]. Note that Carnegie used a variant spelling: “Sibyl”.

QI believes that the existence of this work which was often attributed to Partridge and which was sometimes called “Just for Today” probably caused a misunderstanding. Carnegie incorrectly ascribed to Partridge an essay whose first known appearance was many years after 1880 in the newspaper column of Frank Crane. Crane’s article was published in the Boston Globe in 1921 as noted previously in this post [BGFC].

In 1932 the Christian Science Monitor printed the ten resolutions given by Crane under the title “Just for Today”, but the words were credited “Hugh Barret Dobbs” (Barrett was probably misspelled). Also, some changes were made. For example, resolution six was simplified [CMHD]:

6. Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, as William James suggests, just for exercise.

In 1944 the weekly publication “Masonic Historiology” printed a version of “Just for Today” and credited: Dr. Frank Crane, D.D. [MHFC].

In 1948 Dale Carnegie released his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” and credited a version of “Just for Today” to “Sibyl F. Partridge”.

In 1953 an article by Kenneth Holmes with the title “Your Next 12 Hours” was printed in the Sunday newspaper supplement “This Week Magazine”. Holmes reprinted the short essay under investigation, but he did not claim authorship. He used the following introduction [KHJT]:

I have since carried in my billfold a little folder entitled. “Just for Today,” which was issued by the local branch of Alcoholics Anonymous. I believe it holds a message for everybody, everywhere and every day. My copy is dog-eared and nearly worn out, but here is what these “Words To Live By” say: …

In 1987 the Beatles member George Harrison released an album as a solo artist called “Cloud Nine”. The lyrics of the song “Just For Today” echoed the beginning of the essay [GHJT]:

Just for today
I could try to live through this day only
Not deal with all life’s problems
Just for today

In conclusion, the earliest currently known evidence points to Frank Crane as the creator of this collection of ten resolutions. QI would tentatively credit Crane with the recognition that additional information in the future may shift the attribution. QI thinks that crediting Sybil F. Partridge was probably a mistake caused by the existence of a thematically similar piece with the same name. Kenneth Holmes did write an article that contained the resolutions, but he did not craft them.

One final remark, Frank Crane’s 1921 essay included a saying that he credited to Abraham Lincoln in the section describing suggestion number two. However, there is no strong evidence that Lincoln was responsible for the quotation. To learn more about this topic you may wish to read the article that was posted to the QI blog here.

(Great thanks to Laurence Holbrook who sent a query that included background information about this question. His email included relevant material about Dale Carnegie and Sibyl F. Partridge. This exploration was motivated by his query.)

Update history: On July 29, 2012 the misspelling of the name Hugh Barrett Dobbs was mentioned. Thanks to Barry Popik for noticing this.

[BGFC] 1921 May 29, Boston Globe, DR CRANE SAYS: Just for Today by Frank Crane, Page E4, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

[CMHD] 1932 July 20, Christian Science Monitor, Section: Daily Features, For the Scrapbook: Just for Today by Hugh Barret Dobbs, Page 11, Column 6, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

[JTDC] 2004, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, Page 109 and 110, Pocket Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, New York. [First edition was published in 1948; Revised and reprinted many times] (Google Books preview)

[SJTD] 1880 January, The Messenger of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Organ of The Apostleship Of Prayer, Volume 7, To-day, Quote Page 20, Burns and Oates, London. (Google Books full view) link

[GHSP] 1916, Goucher College Hymnal, Edited by William Westley Guth, Hymn 118, Page 94, The Century Co., New York. (Google Books full view) link

[MHFC] 1944 July 18, Masonic Historiology, Volume 3, Number 41, Just for Today, Quote Page 164, Published weekly by Allister J. McKowen, Los Angeles, California. (Google Books full view) link

[KHJT] 1953 August 9, Times-Picayune, Section: This Week Magazine, “Words to Live by: Your Next 12 Hours”, Quote Page 2 [GNB Page 120], New Orleans, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)

[GHJT] George Harrison website, Lyrics of the song “Just For Today” from the 1987 album “Cloud Nine”. (Accessed georgeharrison.com on July 27, 2012)  link Youtube video link. (Thanks to James Callan ‏@scarequotes for tweeting about this song)

 

One thought on “Just for Today, I Will Try to Live Through This Day Only

  1. Dear QI,

    I can’t thank you enough for your time & effort to investigate this issue – it was really puzzling me – FWIW, I think you got it – while there are bits and pieces, apparently most of Crane’s writings have been lost – it’s a shame, it would be wonderful to know more about why he wrote “Just For Today” and the circumstances surrounding it’s creation – Again, a sincere thanks for putting this issue to rest –

    Larry

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