Abraham Lincoln? Frank Crane? Orison Swett Marden? Dale Carnegie? Anonymous?
Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
I love this saying, and it helps me to reflect constructively on my own turbulent emotional life. Sometimes focusing on the positive enables one to feel happy instead of unhappy. Could you determine if Lincoln or someone else created this adage?
Quote Investigator: Expert Ralph Keyes examined a version of this saying in The Quote Verifier and expressed skepticism about the common ascription: 1
“People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
This popular Internet quotation is usually attributed to Lincoln. It doesn’t sound like him, however, and no evidence has been offered that he ever said or wrote this. It has appeared in unreliable collections of Lincolniana, and was attributed to Lincoln in the 1960 film Pollyanna.
The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a newspaper article about New Year’s Resolutions on the first day of 1914 by the columnist Dr. Frank Crane: 2
Determine this year to be master of self; that you will control your thoughts, regulate your passions, and guide your own deeds; that you will not let events lead you by the nose.
Resolve to be happy. Remember Lincoln’s saying that “folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
Crane’s column about resolutions was printed in the Syracuse Herald of Syracuse, New York. It also appeared in other papers in 1914 such as: the Moberly Morning Monitor of Moberly, Missouri; 3 and the Grand Forks Herald of Grand Forks, North Dakota. 4
In 1916 Crane invoked the adage again in his column titled “Plain Talk for Plain People”, but the phrasing he employed was somewhat different. The expression used “most people” instead of “folks” and included the phrase “in this world”: 5
Do you remember what Lincoln said? It was this:
“I have noticed that most people in this world are about as happy as they have made up their minds to be.”
Note that Crane placed the statement between quotation marks, and he credited Abraham Lincoln, but he was not certain how it was originally phrased. Indeed, as shown below, Crane gave a third version in 1920. Lincoln died in 1865 about fifty years before the earliest instance of the quote known to QI.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 129, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1914 January 01, Syracuse Herald, New Year’s Resolutions by Dr. Frank Crane, Unnumbered Page (NewsArch Page 16), Column 4, Syracuse, New York. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1914 January 4, Moberly Morning Monitor, New Year’s Resolutions by Dr. Frank Crane, Page 2, Column 4, Moberly, Missouri. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1914 January 15, Grand Forks Herald, Old-Fashioned Advice. Some Worth While Resolutions for the New Year, (Acknowledgement to Chicago News), Page 7, Column 6, Grand Forks, North Dakota. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1916 July 23, Boston Globe, Plain Talk for Plain People by Dr. Frank Crane, Page 44, Column 8, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest) ↩