We Cannot Cure the World of Sorrows, But We Can Choose To Live in Joy

Joseph Campbell? Diane K. Osbon? Kurt Vonnegut? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: When I watch the news I see endless reports signaling that the world is a mess. Efforts to mend the world are necessary and laudable; however, I am reminded of the advice given by mythology scholar Joseph Campbell. The world has always been a mess, and priority should be given to straightening out our own lives. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: This guidance occurred in the 1991 book “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion” which consisted of material selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon. The following text appeared in a section titled “In the Field”, and Osbon stated that she had collected the words directly from Campbell. The section contained “favorite expressions of his, recorded in my journals over the years in his company”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.
When we talk about settling the world’s problems, we’re barking up the wrong tree.
The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess.
We are not going to change it.
Our job is to straighten out our own lives.

Below is one additional selected citation.

Popular author Kurt Vonnegut made a similar point about the status of the world: 2

Yes, this planet is in a terrible mess. But it has always been a mess. There have never been any “Good Old Days,” there have just been days. And as I say to my grandchildren, “Don’t look at me. I just got here.”

Vonnegut suggested that people should acknowledge and accentuate positive experiences: 3

And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

In conclusion, the statements under analysis appeared in the 1991 book “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion”, and Campbell should receive credit based on the testimony of Diane K. Osbon.

Image Notes: Illustration of a globe held be a hand from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been resized.

(Great thanks to Skylar who pointed to this quotation which led QI to create this webpage.)

Notes:

  1. 1991, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, Chapter: In the Field, Quote Page 8 and Page 17, HarperCollins, New York, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 2005, A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, Edited by Daniel Simon, Chapter: I used to be the owner and manager of an automobile dealership, Quote Page 131, Seven Stories Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 2005, A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, Edited by Daniel Simon, Chapter: I used to be the owner and manager of an automobile dealership, Quote Page 132, Seven Stories Press, New York. (Verified with scans)