Things Turn Out Best for Folks Who Make the Best of the Way Things Turn Out

Titus Livius? John Wooden? Art Linkletter? Anonymous?

wooden08Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone experiences some adversity, and that may help to explain the popularity of the following adage:

Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.

These words have been attributed to at least three people: Roman historian Titus Livius, basketball coach John Wooden, and television personality Art Linkletter. Who do you think should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: In March 1961 an instance of this aphorism was published in the humor column of two community newspapers in Illinois. A person named “PF Pete” had collected the expression from an unnamed “Ad Boy”: 1 2

Ad Boy:
Things turn out for the best for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.
PF Pete

The statement was constructed using a rhetorical technique called antimetabole. Successive phrases were repeated, but some key words were permuted. In this case, the words: “things”, “turn”, “out”, and “best” were repeated and reordered:

Part 1: Things turn out for the best for those who
Part 2: make the best out of the way things turn out.

In May 1961 the saying was printed in an advertisement for a bank published in a Brookshire, Texas newspaper. The words were ascribed to “Uncle Joe”: 3

“Things turn out for the best,” Uncle Joe remarked, “for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.”

In the following years, close variants of the adage were published in numerous newspapers. The ascription was omitted or employed non-specific identifiers such as “Ad Boy” or “Uncle Joe”. No individual was credited, and QI believes the statement should be labeled anonymous.

In 1973 prominent UCLA basketball coach John Wooden included the aphorism in a book he co-authored. Wooden did not claim coinage, nor did he provide an ascription. In 1979 entertainer Art Linkletter included the remark in a book he published and credited Wooden. Precise citations for Wooden and Linkletter are given further below. QI has found no substantive support for crediting the dictum to Titus Livius; that linkage appeared relatively recently.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who also examined this topic.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1962 “Boys’ Life” printed an instance that had been communicated to the magazine by a reader: 4

“Things turn out for the best,” my Scoutmaster said, “for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.”—Tim Struna, Euclid 19, Ohio.

In May 1965 an instance of this aphorism using the word “folks” was published in a newspaper column in Ada, Oklahoma together with miscellaneous sayings. No attribution was provided: 5

Things turn out best for folks who make the best of the way things turn out.

In June 1966 a slightly different version of the saying was printed as a filler item without ascription in a newspaper in Holland, Michigan: 6

Things turn out best for those who make the best out of the way things turn out.

In May 1967 the version immediately above appeared in a supermarket advertisement in a Beckley, West Virginia newspaper without attribution. 7

The aphorism continued to circulate in 1970 when it appeared in a small box adjacent to the front page banner of the evening edition of a Gettysburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. The phrasing differed slightly with the word “for” inserted to yield “for the best”: 8

GOOD EVENING
Things turn out for the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.

In 1973 the book “They Call Me Coach” by John Wooden as told to Jack Tobin was published. The epigraph of chapter 10 presented an instance of the adage: 9

Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.

Each chapter was accompanied with an epigraph, and some of these pithy remarks were followed by asterisks pointing to footnotes providing attributions. However, the expression above was not given an ascription. QI believes that absence signaled that the authors considered the phrase to be anonymous. Consider another example in Wooden’s book; the following epigraph was given for chapter 15:

It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.

No attribution was provided, but QI has determined that the above saying has a very long history.

In November 1973 the sports editor of “The Marietta Daily Journal” in Georgia was impressed with the quotations published in Wooden’s volume, and he reprinted a few: 10

John Wooden, basketball coach at UCLA, has a new book out entitled, “They Call Me Coach.” Some quotations by Wooden are very well worth repeating:

“The true athlete should have character, not be a character.”
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
“Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”

In January 1974 the aphorism was printed in a national newspaper supplement in the U.S. called “Tuesday At Home”. A columnist encouraged readers to send in items of folk wisdom: 11 12

Margaret McCall of Portland, Oregon, tells us that: “Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”

In October 1976 an instance appeared in a Santa Cruz, California newspaper with a generic ascription: 13

A wise old man once said that “Things turn out the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”

The linkage to John Wooden was not forgotten. For example, in 1977 a small box on the front page of a Panama City, Florida newspaper displayed the statement with an ascription to the famous coach: 14

“Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”
John Wooden

In 1979 Art Linkletter penned a self-help book titled “Yes, You Can: How to Succeed in Business and Life”, and he included the adage while crediting Wooden: 15

Whenever I fall back into self-pity or excessive rage at something that’s gone wrong, I try to repeat some advice I heard from John Wooden, the great U.C.L.A. basketball coach. He said, “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out,” and that’s become my philosophy too. When things outside your control intervene to disrupt your day, you’re certainly entitled to a certain amount of emotional disturbance.

In 1982 an Associated Press article reported on a speech given by Linkletter at Coastal Carolina College in South Carolina: 16

Linkletter also voiced the philosophy, “If you live long enough, you’re going to be hurt, but things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

A version using the phrase “work out” instead of “turn out” has also appeared. Here is an instance that was printed in an Illinois newspaper in 2006: 17

“Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”
-John Wooden

In 2010 a webpage on the Goodreads website assigned the saying to the Roman historian Titus Livius Patavinus: 18

Titus Livy > Quotes > Quotable Quote
“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”

In conclusion, QI believes that this aphorism has an anonymous origin. Both John Wooden and Art Linkletter helped to popularize the saying, but neither created it.

Image Notes: Small low-resolution book cover for “They Call Me Coach”. John Wooden in 1960 from a UCLA publication with an expired copyright. Image obtained via Wikimedia Commons. Small low-resolution book cover for “Yes, You Can”. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to TygerBurning and Phil Wade whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Wade pointed to the 1979 citation and noted that Linkletter credited Wooden. Thanks also to Barry Popik.)

Update History: On June 19, 2015 citations from 1961, 1962, and 2006 were added, and parts of the entry were rewritten.

Notes:

  1. 1961 March 26, The Park Forest Star: Serving America’s Model Community, The Outlet, Quote Page 6, Column 8, Park Forest, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1961 March 26, Homewood-Flossmoor Star: Your Community Newspaper, The Outlet, Quote Page 6, Column 8, Chicago, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1961 May 4, The Brookshire Times, (Advertisement for Farmers State Bank, Brookshire, Texas), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Brookshire, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1962 February, Boys’ Life, Think and Grin, Start Page 78, Quote Page 78, Column 2, Published by Boy Scouts of America, Inc. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1965 May 13, The Ada Weekly News, Strayed from the Herd by Connie Nelson, Quote Page 4, Column 8, Ada, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1966 June 8, The Holland Evening Sentinel, (Free standing filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 3, Holland, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1967 May 4, The Raleigh Register, (Saying without attribution in advertisement for Carolina Supermarket), Quote Page 28, Beckley, West Virginia. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1970 May 6, The Gettysburg Times, Good Evening (Box in upper right of front page), Quote Page 1, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1973, They Call Me Coach by John Wooden, as told to Jack Tobin, (Epigraph of Chapter 10), Quote Page 71, Bantam Books, New York. (Front matter states that an edition from Word Books was published December 1972) (Verified with scans)
  10. 1973 November 18, Marietta Daily Journal, Ken Wynn Sports Editor by Ken Wynn, Quote Page 1B, Column 1, Marietta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)
  11. 1974 January 27, Washington Star News (Evening Star), Supplement Section: Tuesday At Home, Words of Family & Folk Wisdom & Wit from Our Readers, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Washington, DC, District of Columbia. (GenealogyBank)
  12. 1974 January 30, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Supplement Section: Tuesday At Home, Words of Family & Folk Wisdom & Wit from Our Readers, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  13. 1976 October 10, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Marello in Big Victory by Greg Lathrop, Quote Page 34, Column 1, Santa Cruz, California. (Newspapers_com)
  14. 1977 May 6, Panama City News-Herald, (Box adjacent to banner on front page), Quote Page 1, Panama City, Florida (Newspapers_com)
  15. 1982 (1979 Copyright), Yes, You Can: How to Succeed in Business and Life by Art Linkletter, Chapter 4: It’s All Right for Things to Go Wrong, Quote Page 31, A Jove Book: Jove Publications, New York. (Paperback edition of 1982 contains complete text of original 1979 hardback from Simon & Schuster) (Verified with scans of 1982 edition)
  16. 1982 October 28, Augusta Chronicle, Linkletter stresses believing in self by Dianne Marshall (The Myrtle Beach Sun News; Associated Press), Quote Page 9B, Column 2, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)
  17. 2006 November 19, The Star, Article: A Kick in the Attitude: Quote-ivate yourself with these words of wisdom, Byline: Joe Takash (Star columnist), Section D, Quote Page 1, Chicago Heights Area, Ilinois, (NewsBank Access World News)
  18. Website: Goodreads, Article title: Titus Livy > Quotes > Quotable Quote, Timestamp of First Like: Dec 10, 2010 12:27AM, Website description: Goodreads is a large community for readers that provides book recommendations; the site is owned by Amazon. (Accessed goodreads.com on October 8, 2014) link