Get Your Happiness Out of Your Work, or You’ll Never Know What Happiness Is

Elbert Hubbard? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Working for a living consumes enormous amounts of time and energy. If you wish to be happy in life then it is essential to try and obtain happiness from your work. Would you please determine who created an adage expressing this idea?

Quote Investigator: Elbert Hubbard was the founder of a New York community of artisans called Roycrofters. He also collected and synthesized adages which appeared in his books and periodicals. The July 1904 issue of Hubbard’s “The Philistine” contained a pertinent saying. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If you would be happy, do not look for happiness outside of your work.

In July 1906 “Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers” published a filler item crediting Hubbard’s periodical with a popular modern version of the adage: 2

Get your happiness out of your work or you’ll never know what happiness is.—The Philistine.

The reader must decide if this is a helpful insight or a misleading mantra for workaholics.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1843 Scottish philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle penned a thematically related statement extolling purposeful work: 3

Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness. He has a work, a life-purpose; he has found it, and will follow it!

1904 and 1906 citations for Elbert Hubbard were given above. In 1907 he wrote a short book about the impressive early department stores of John Wanamaker titled “A Dozen & Two Pastelles in Prose”. One section contained a list of “many mottoes or orphic sayings” that Hubbard thought revealed “the sentiments, ideals and hopes” of the stores such as the following: 4

No man ever pusht himself forward by patting himself on the back.

Get your happiness out of your work or you’ll never know what happiness is.

A retentive memory may be a good thing, but to be able to forget is the true token of greatness.

Don’t tell about what you would do if you were some one else—just show what you can do yourself.

The 1909 book “The Girl Who Earns Her Own Living” by Anna Steese Richardson credited Hubbard with the saying: 5

Here are two quotations which will prove immensely helpful to you. The first is from a poem by Dr. Henry Van Dyke:

“This is my work, my blessing, not my doom;
Of all who live, I am the one by whom
This work can best be done, in my own way.”

The second is from Elbert Hubbard’s little magazine, The Philistine,

“Get your happiness out of your work, or you’ll never know what happiness is.”

In 1911 Hubbard published a short biographical text titled “A Little Journey to the Home of John B. Stetson” which included the following passage: 6

He was fifty years old, and he decided he would retire from business and enjoy himself—not knowing that happiness is a habit, and if you do not get your happiness out of your work you will never know what happiness is. He did not realize that to retire from work is to retire from life; so he sold out his prosperous business, and the money he had made in a business he understood, he invested in one he knew nothing about.

In 1922 a posthumous collection “Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard” included this variant statement: 7

The man who does not enjoy himself in his business will never know what happiness is.

In conclusion, Elbert Hubbard crafted multiple versions of an adage about finding happiness in work. The most common version today is the one recorded in the 1907 citation.

Notes:

  1. 1904 July, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Volume 19, Number 2, (Filler item), Quote Page 60, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1906 July 4, Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers, Volume 56, Number 1, (Filler item), Quote Page 25 and 26, Column 2, Printers’ Ink Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1843, Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, Chapter 11: Labour, Quote Page 169 and 170, Chapman and Hall, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  4. 1907, A Dozen & Two Pastelles in Prose: Being Impressions of The Wanamaker Stores Written in as Many Moods by Elbert Hubbard, Quote Page 26 and 27, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  5. 1909, The Girl Who Earns Her Own Living by Anna Steese Richardson, Chapter 19: The Girl the Business World Wants, Quote Page 261, B. W. Dodge & Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  6. 1911, A Little Journey to the Home of John B. Stetson by Elbert Hubbard, Quote Page 7, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  7. 1922 Copyright, Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard, Retired Farmers, Start Page 201, Quote Page 201, William H. Wise & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link