Some Cause Happiness Wherever They Go; Others Whenever They Go

Oscar Wilde? Success Magazine? Olin Miller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Individuals with energetic, warm, and joyful personalities are welcome at most gatherings, but individuals with sullen and mean-spirited dispositions are often unwelcome. This observation accords with the following insight:

Some people bring happiness wherever they go, and others whenever they leave.

This statement is usually attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde, but I am skeptical because I have never seen a good citation. Would you please trace this remark?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900, and QI has found no substantive evidence that he employed this saying.

The earliest close match found by QI appeared in “Success Magazine” in May 1908. The phrasing was a bit odd. The magazine printed a short item with the title “Others Whenever”: 1

Others Whenever
Some people make happiness wherever they go.

The joke was presented with an inverted ordering, To decode the humor the reader must understand the sentence after the title and then reflect back on the meaning of the title. No attribution was given for the joke.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

This item caught the attention of several newspaper editors, and during the following weeks it was reprinted with an acknowledgement. For example, in May 1908 it appeared in “The Star-Independent” of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 2 and in the “St. Joseph Daily Press” of Saint Joseph, Michigan: 3

Others Whenever.
Some people make happiness wherever they go.—Success Magazine.

Also, in May 1908 a rephrased version appeared in a New York trade journal called “The Insurance Press: A Newspaper for Insurers and Insured” 4

Some agents create happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.

In 1934 another rephrased instance appeared in a column titled “Sunland Shorts” from the newspaper humorist Olin Miller: 5

There are some who cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.

In 1935 another phrasing of the jest was credited to a barber in a South Carolina newspaper: 6

Happiness
Jake, the barber, says: Some folks spread happiness wherever they go, and some folks spread happiness whenever they go.

In 1947 the saying appeared in “A Little Book of Aphorisms” collected by Frederick B. Wilcox. The attribution was anonymous; however, the preceding quotation was ascribed to Oscar Wilde. Below is an image showing the layout of the two adjacent quotations on the page followed by the text: 7

In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worse; the last is a real tragedy.
OSCAR WILDE
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
ANON.

One important mechanism for generating misattributions is based on the misreading of neighboring quotations. One or more inattentive readers of this book may have incorrectly decided that the second statement was crafted by Oscar Wilde.

In 1955 “Speaker’s Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms” by Herbert V. Prochnow ascribed the joke to Wilde: 8

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Oscar Wilde

In 1956 advice columnist Adaline Starr writing in the “Chicago Daily Tribune” used a version with the word “leave”: 9

Some people bring happiness wherever they go and others whenever they leave. To them, life is tragic and the way to be happy is to be unhappy.

In 1968 “20,000 Quips and Quotes” by Evan Esar included two instances both of which were anonymous: 10

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.

Some people spread happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

In conclusion, the earliest instance of the gag located by QI appeared in “Success Magazine” in 1908. The creator was unnamed. Humorist Olin Miller employed the joke in 1934, but it was already in circulation. The attribution to Oscar Wilde is unsupported, and the mistake may have been caused by a misreading of the 1947 collection “A Little Book of Aphorisms”.

Image Notes: Illustration of different simplified faces on spheres from AbsolutVision at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1908 May, Success Magazine, Volume 11, Pleasantry, Quote Page 303, Column 2, The Success Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1908 May 6, The Star-Independent (Harrisburg Daily Independent), Others Whenever, Quote Page 5, Column 7, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1908 May 21, St. Joseph Daily Press, (Filler item titled “Others Whenever”), Quote Page 3, Column 5, Saint Joseph, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1908 May 13, The Insurance Press: A Newspaper for Insurers and Insured, Volume 26, “T.I.P.” Pointers, Quote Page 11, Column 3, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  5. 1934 October 15, The Miami News, Sunland Shorts by Olin Miller, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Miami, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1935 January 24, The Columbia Record, The Columbia Day Book, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Columbia, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)
  7. 1947, A Little Book of Aphorisms, Collected by Frederick B. Wilcox, Section: Happiness, Quote Page 66, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  8. 1955, Speaker’s Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms by Herbert V. Prochnow, Topic: Happiness, Quote Page 131, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)
  9. 1956 October 25, Chicago Daily Tribune, At 18, She Has Eyes Only for Sister’s Husband by Adaline Starr, Part 4, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Subject: go, Quote Page 120, Subject: Happiness, Quote Page 369, Column 2, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)