Robert Haven Schauffler? Nantucket Sea Captain? Rita P.? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I am tempted to complain about a setback in my life I recollect a wry piece of advice. Here are two versions:
- Never tell people your troubles. Half of them don’t care and the other half will be glad it happened to you.
- Don’t harangue people with your troubles. Most of your listeners aren’t interested, and the rest are happy you’re finally getting what’s coming to you.
Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?
Quote Investigator: The earliest full match located by QI appeared in the 1939 self-help book of the popular author Robert Haven Schauffler titled “Enjoy Living: An Invitation to Happiness”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Be careful how you outshine even your intimates in conversation or anything else, or load your griefs and worries upon their shoulders. “If you want enemies,” said la Rochefoucauld,”excel your friends; but if you want friends, let your friends excel you.” “Don’t tell yer trouble to others,” a Nantucket sea-captain advised me. “Most of ’em don’t care a hang; an’ the rest are damn glad of it.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1885 a Vermont newspaper reprinted a thematically pertinent poem from “Harper’s Weekly” titled “Nobody Really Cares” by Margaret Eytinge. The following was the final stanza: 2
This world is fond of pleasure,
And, take it at its best,
‘Tis sadly bored unless you
Meet it with smile and jest;
It yawns o’er want’s complainings,
At sorrow coldly stares,
So never tell your troubles, for
Nobody really cares.
In 1892 “The Granbury News” of Granbury, Texas printed a filler item that provided a partial match: 3
So many friends, who look sympathetic when you tell your troubles, think to themselves that it serves you right.
In 1896 “Macmillan’s Magazine” published a rationale for reticence with a comical edge: 4
There is a saying: “Never tell your troubles; you only take up the time of the man who is waiting to tell you his.” In this hard and busy world the saying perhaps holds good of other things than troubles.
In 1901 “The Owingsville Outlook” of Owingsville, Kentucky presented a similar notion with less humor: 5
Don’t tell other people your trouble, for they have trouble of their own.
In 1939 Robert Haven Schauffler credited an unnamed mariner with the saying under examination as mentioned previously:
“Don’t tell yer trouble to others,” a Nantucket sea-captain advised me. “Most of ’em don’t care a hang; an’ the rest are damn glad of it.”
In October 1942 the saying achieved wide distribution when it appeared as a filler item in “The Reader’s Digest”. The excerpt was slightly altered; “yer” was changed to “your”; “trouble” was changed to “troubles”; and “once” was inserted: 6
“Don’t tell your troubles to others,” a Nantucket sea captain once advised me. “Most of ’em don’t care a hang; an’ the rest are damn glad of it.”
— Robert Haven Schauffler, Enjoy Living (Dodd, Mead)
In November 1942 “The Boston Globe” printed the saying in the “Globe Man’s Daily Story”. The quotation matched the ‘The Reader’s Digest” version: 7
“Don’t tell your troubles to others,” a Nantucket sea captain once advised him, Robert Haven Schauffler writes in “Enjoy Living.” The captain went on, “Most of ’em don’t care a hang; an’ the rest are damn glad of it.”
In 1943 a columnist in the “Richmond Times Dispatch” of Richmond, Virginia printed an instance without the word “damn” and without mentioning Schauffler: 8
A Nantucket sea captain once said, “Don’t tell your troubles to others; most of ’em don’t care a hang, and the rest are glad of it.”
In 1944 the saying appeared in the compilation “What Is Truth” by Henry Powell Spring: 9
DON’T TELL YOUR TROUBLES TO OTHERS–MOST OF ‘EM DON’T CARE A HANG; AN’ THE REST ARE DAMN GLAD OF IT. A NANTUCKET PHILOSOPHER.
In January 1944 a columnist in “The Daily Courier” of Connellsville, Pennsylvania published the following variant without attribution: 10
Don’t tell people your troubles. Most of them don’t want to listen and the rest are glad you have them.
In 1952 the “Chicago Tribune” printed the following variant and ascription: 11
Never tell people your troubles. Half of them don’t care and the other half will be glad it happened to you.
In 1955 the syndicated feature “Today’s Chuckle” presented the following variant: 12
Whenever you’re tempted to tell your troubles to other people, remember that half your listeners aren’t interested and the rest are glad you’re finally getting what’s coming to you.
In conclusion, Robert Haven Schauffler popularized this expression with his 1939 book “Enjoy Living”, but he credited an unnamed sea captain.
Image Notes: Picture of lighthouse in Nantucket from skeeze at Pixabay. Picture of Nanatucket harbor taken by Bobak Ha’Eri; licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.5); accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.
(Great thanks to G. Grady whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to Barry Popik for his research on this topic.)
- 1939, Enjoy Living: An Invitation to Happiness by Robert Haven Schauffler, Chapter 19: Getting Along with People, Start Page 243, Quote Page 249, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1885 February 25, The Burlington Free Press, Nobody Really Cares by Margaret Eytinge (Harper’s Weekly), Quote Page 3, Column 3, Burlington, Vermont. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1892 February 11, The Granbury News, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Granbury, Texas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1896 February, Macmillan’s Magazine, Wanted—A Dead Letter Office, Start Page 309, Quote Page 320, Column 1, Macmillan and Company, London and New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1901 July 4, The Owingsville Outlook, Stoops, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Owingsville, Kentucky. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1942 October, Reader’s Digest, Volume 41, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 20, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1942 November 6, The Boston Daily Globe, Globe Man’s Daily Story, Quote Page 20, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1943 January 30, Richmond Times Dispatch, Way Down South in the Land of Cotton by Corbin Old, Quote Page 10, Column 3, Richmond, Virginia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1944, What Is Truth by (Henry) Powell Spring, Chapter 1: The Tenor and Texture of Life, Quote Page 29, The Orange Press, Winter Park, Florida. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1944 January 24, The Daily Courier, Sportorials by John H. Whoric (Sports Editor), Quote Page 5, Column 1, Connellsville, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1952 November 27, Chicago Daily Tribune, A Line O’ Type Or Two, Quote Page 18, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1955 April 19, Greensboro Daily News, Today’s Chuckle, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank) ↩