The Bedbug Letter

Letter Recipient: Miles Poindexter? Frank Crane? John Phillips? Hugh Ironpants Johnson?

Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please explore the provenance of a story called “The Bedbug Letter” about a revelatory customer relations blunder?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared on June 12, 1913 in multiple newspapers such as “The Duluth Herald” of Duluth Minnesota 1 and “The Daily Northwestern” of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 2 The columnist Fred C. Kelly recounted the anecdote. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Senator Miles Poindexter had occasion to stop at a leading hotel in a big Western city a time ago, and while there was unable to sleep because of certain vexatious conditions that existed with reference to his bed. He was obliged to toss about all night and act like a man with hives.

When he got back to his office he wrote a scathing letter to the proprietor of the hotel. The proprietor wrote back a three-page letter done in the politest of phraseology. In which he thanked Poindexter for telling him.

“Such a thing has never occurred before in this hotel,” said the proprietor, “and we trust it never will occur again. We are deeply obligated to you for telling us, because if we did not know of such things the trouble might become greatly augmented. While we are astonished that the condition you mention could exist, we are thankful that you told us before any other guest is exposed to similar annoyance.”

Thus the letter went on. But the writer had unintentionally inclosed in the envelope a small scrap of yellow memorandum paper. On it was a line written evidently for the stenographer’s eye and for no other. It said: “Write this man the bedbug letter.”

Variants of this tale have evolved over the years. A 1915 version shifted the locale to a railway sleeping car. A 1927 anecdote published in “The New Yorker” mentioned water bugs instead of bedbugs.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading The Bedbug Letter


  1. 1913 June 12, The Duluth Herald, Statesmen, Real and Near by Fred C. Kelly, Quote Page 10, Column 6, Duluth Minnesota. (Old Fulton)
  2. 1913 June 12, The Daily Northwestern (The Oshkosh Northwestern), Statesmen, Real and Near by Fred C. Kelly, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)

Folks Are Usually About as Happy as They Make Up Their Minds To Be

Abraham Lincoln? Frank Crane? Orison Swett Marden? Dale Carnegie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: On twitter recently there was an exchange about a deeply insightful quotation credited to Abraham Lincoln:

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

I love this saying, and it helps me to reflect constructively on my own turbulent emotional life. Sometimes focusing on the positive enables one to feel happy instead of unhappy. Could you determine if Lincoln or someone else created this adage?

Quote Investigator: Expert Ralph Keyes examined a version of this saying in The Quote Verifier and expressed skepticism about the common ascription: 1

“People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
This popular Internet quotation is usually attributed to Lincoln. It doesn’t sound like him, however, and no evidence has been offered that he ever said or wrote this. It has appeared in unreliable collections of Lincolniana, and was attributed to Lincoln in the 1960 film Pollyanna.

The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a newspaper article about New Year’s Resolutions on the first day of 1914 by the columnist Dr. Frank Crane: 2

Determine this year to be master of self; that you will control your thoughts, regulate your passions, and guide your own deeds; that you will not let events lead you by the nose.

Resolve to be happy. Remember Lincoln’s saying that “folks are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Crane’s column about resolutions was printed in the Syracuse Herald of Syracuse, New York. It also appeared in other papers in 1914 such as: the Moberly Morning Monitor of Moberly, Missouri; 3 and the Grand Forks Herald of Grand Forks, North Dakota. 4

In 1916 Crane invoked the adage again in his column titled “Plain Talk for Plain People”, but the phrasing he employed was somewhat different. The expression used “most people” instead of “folks” and included the phrase “in this world”: 5

Do you remember what Lincoln said? It was this:
“I have noticed that most people in this world are about as happy as they have made up their minds to be.”

Note that Crane placed the statement between quotation marks, and he credited Abraham Lincoln, but he was not certain how it was originally phrased. Indeed, as shown below, Crane gave a third version in 1920. Lincoln died in 1865 about fifty years before the earliest instance of the quote known to QI.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Folks Are Usually About as Happy as They Make Up Their Minds To Be


  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 129, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1914 January 01, Syracuse Herald, New Year’s Resolutions by Dr. Frank Crane, Unnumbered Page (NewsArch Page 16), Column 4, Syracuse, New York. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1914 January 4, Moberly Morning Monitor, New Year’s Resolutions by Dr. Frank Crane, Page 2, Column 4, Moberly, Missouri. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1914 January 15, Grand Forks Herald, Old-Fashioned Advice. Some Worth While Resolutions for the New Year, (Acknowledgement to Chicago News), Page 7, Column 6, Grand Forks, North Dakota. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1916 July 23, Boston Globe, Plain Talk for Plain People by Dr. Frank Crane, Page 44, Column 8, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

Just for Today, I Will Try to Live Through This Day Only

Kenneth Holmes? Frank Crane? Hugh Barrett Dobbs? Sister Mary Xavier? Sybil F. Partridge? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is an inspirational essay called “Just for Today” that I have seen on many websites. It consists of a series of suggestions or guidelines. There are many versions, but one common example begins with the following statements:

Just for today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt that I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

Just for today I will be happy. This assumes to be true what Abraham Lincoln said, that “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

The information I have read about the provenance of this essay is confusing and contradictory. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of closely matching text located by QI was dated 1921 in the Boston Globe. The author was Frank Crane who wrote a newspaper column called “DR CRANE SAYS”. The piece contained a set of ten daily suggestions and was titled “Just for Today” [BGFC]:

Here are ten resolutions to make when you awake in the morning.

They are Just for One Day. Think of them not as a life task but as a day’s work.

These things will give you pleasure. Yet they require will power. You don’t need resolutions to do what is easy.

1. Just for Today, I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle my whole life-problem at once. I can do some things for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep them up for a lifetime.

2. Just for Today, I will be Happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true, that “most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness is from Within; it is not a matter of Externals.

3. Just for Today, I will Adjust myself to what Is, and not try to Adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come, and fit myself to them.

4. Just for Today, I will take care of my Body. I will exercise it, care for it, and nourish it, and not abuse it nor neglect it; so that it will be a perfect machine for my will.

5. Just for Today, I will try to strengthen my mind, I will study. I will learn something useful, I will not be a mental loafer all day. I will read something that requires effort, though and concentration.

6. Just for Today, I will exercise my Soul. In three ways, to wit:

(a) I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. If anybody knows of it, it will not count.

(b) I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, as William James suggests just for exercise.

(c) I will not show any one that my feelings are hurt. They may be hurt, but Today I will not show it.

7. Just for To-day, I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as possible,  talk low,  act courteously, be liberal with flattery, criticize not one bit  nor find fault with anything, and not try to regulate nor improve anybody.

8. Just for Today, I will have a Programme. I will write down just what I expect to do every hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I’ll have it. It will save me from the two pests Hurry and Indecision.

9. Just for Today, I will have a quiet half hour, all by myself, and relax. During this half hour, some time, I will think of God, so as to get a little more perspective to my life.

10. Just for Today, I will be Unafraid. Especially I will not be afraid to be Happy, to enjoy what is Beautiful, to love and to believe that those I love love me.

(Copyright, 1921 by Frank Crane)

The copyright statement at the end of the column suggested that Crane was claiming authorship. (Special note: Since the text above was published in the U.S. before 1923 QI believes that the copyright has now expired and the essay is in the public domain in the U.S.) But QI is not certain that Crane originated the entire list of statements. Oddly, in 1932 a nearly identical set of ten resolutions was published in the Christian Science Monitor. However, Frank Crane’s name was not mentioned. Instead, the words were attributed to “Hugh Barret Dobbs”. This probably was a misspelling of the name of Hugh Barrett Dobbs who was a popular radio entertainer [CMHD].

Dale Carnegie, the famous advocate of self-improvement, included a version of the essay in his high-profile book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” which was first published in 1948.  Carnegie’s introductory words provided an ascription [JTDC]:

Let’s fight for our happiness by following a daily program of cheerful and constructive thinking. Here is such a program. It is entitled “Just for Today.” I found this program so inspiring that I gave away hundreds of copies. It was written by the late Sibyl F. Partridge.

Carnegie credited the essay to Partridge, but QI thinks this ascription was probably incorrect. There is a different work that was also called “Just for Today” that was published by 1880. This early piece was linked to Partridge and may have led to confusion. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Just for Today, I Will Try to Live Through This Day Only