I Have Just One Day, Today, and I’m Going To Be Happy In It

Groucho Marx? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Reportedly, Groucho Marx once described his philosophy of life. He stated that each day he had the power to choose to be happy or unhappy, and he would select happiness. Are you familiar with his statement on this topic? Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx was 86 when he died in 1977. In 1972 Rufus W. Gosnell who was a columnist in an Aiken, South Carolina newspaper ascribed the following to Groucho. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Each morning when I open my eyes, I say to myself; “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” That’s a system that has worked for Groucho Marx for a long time; try it.

This statement apparently was assembled from fragments employed by others as suggested by the citations listed in chronological order below.




The second half of the quotation splits life into three temporal parts, and states that “yesterday is dead”. The earliest match for this tripartite structure known to QI stated that “the past is dead”. The following passage appeared in “The Spectator” magazine in 1712: 2

To-morrow is still the fatal time when all is to be rectified; to-morrow comes, it goes, and still I please myself with the shadow, whilst I lose the reality; unmindful that the present time alone is ours, the future is yet unborn, and the past is dead, and can only live (as parents in their children) in the actions it has produced.

Joseph Addison and Richard Steele founded and operated “The Spectator”. The words above were credited to “Mr. Budgel”.

In 1869 “Putnam’s Magazine” printed an article with a similar statement: 3

Now is the solitary point of supreme interest for us. The Past is dead; the Future is unborn; this Present is all that lives!

Similar tripartite remarks continued to circulate for decades. For example, in 1917 a Charlotte, North Carolina newspaper printed an advertisement containing the following: 4

Yesterday is dead—forget it.
To-morrow has not come—don’t worry.
To-day is here—use it.
Use Standard Coal To-day.

In the 1940s Groucho Marx hosted a radio quiz show called “You Bet Your Life” which migrated to television in the 1950s. A story in the “Chicago Sunday Tribune” in 1951 described a colorful guest who greatly impressed Marx with his buoyant attitude. The word “philosophy” was spelled “philosofy” in the original article: 5

Groucho also was quite happy with Hannus von Yannuh, a 102 year old Norwegian, who became the subject of sermons, editorials and backyard chatter all over the country because of his philosofy:

“Every morning when I get out of bed I have two choices: To be happy or unhappy. I always choose to be happy.”

Groucho has adopted that philosofy himself.

In 1972 columnist Rufus W. Gosnell relayed a statement he attributed to Groucho as noted previously. The quotation may be viewed as a combination of the remark in “The Spectator” and the worldview adopted from Hannus von Yannuh:

Each morning when I open my eyes, I say to myself; “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” That’s a system that has worked for Groucho Marx for a long time; try it.

In 1981 the “Sentinel Star” of Orlando, Florida printed a nearly identical passage and attributed the words to Groucho: 6

Each morning I open my eyes and say, “I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”
Groucho Marx

In conclusion, Groucho Marx made the above remark in 1972 according to a columnist, but the statement was based on a philosophy adopted by Groucho from a guest on his show “You Bet Your Life” named Hannus von Yannuh. Also, the tripartite structure presented echoes a remark from 1712.

Image Notes: Hourglass image from alles at Pixabay. Publicity photo of Groucho Marx via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Geoffrey Nunberg whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to mailing list discussants: Laurence Horn, Jonathan Lighter, Peter Morris, Ben Zimmer, George Thompson, and Mark Mandel. Jonathan Lighter located the 1869 citation. Morris identified the connection to the contestant on “You Bet Your Life. Zimmer noted that the owner of the “Chicago Tribune” supported spelling reform, and the spelling of “philosofy” was deliberate.)

Notes:

  1. 1972 August 30, Aiken Standard, Here’s Rufus by Rufus W. Gosnell, Quote Page 1-B, Column 5, Aiken, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1765, The Spectator In Eight Volumes (Carefully Revised and Corrected) Edited by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, Volume 4, Number 316, Issue Date: March 3, 1712, Author: Mr. Budgel, Start Page 295, Quote Page 297, Printed for D. Williams and P. Dods in the Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1869 January, Putnam’s Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and National Interests, How They Manage Lectures in England, Start Page 98, Quote Page 106, G. P. Putnam & Son, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1917 February 18, The Charlotte News, (Advertisement for Standard Coal), Quote Page 17, Column 1, Charlotte, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1951 July 8, Chicago Sunday Tribune (Chicago Daily Tribune), Groucho Finds Happy Medium in Television, Part 3, Quote Page 8, Column 7, Newspaper Location: Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1981 November 9, Sentinel Star, Speakin’ with Peikin: Person who compulsively eats and diets may have bulimarexia, Quote Page 12B, Column 1, Orlando, Florida. (Newspapers_com)