William James? Harry Granison Hill? Joseph Fort Newton? Norman Vincent Peale? E. Stanley Jones? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: One’s attitude toward life has an enormous effect on one’s experiences in life. Here are two statements on this theme:
(1) The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.
(2) The greatest revolution in my generation was the discovery that human beings by changing their inner attitudes of mind can alter the outer aspects of their lives.
Both of these remarks have been attributed to the prominent U.S. philosopher and psychologist William James, but I have been unable to find any solid citations. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that William James wrote or said either of these sentences. QI conjectures that the statements evolved over time from ideas espoused in the New Thought movement and the Positive Thinking philosophy. The words were attributed to James many years after his death in 1910.
William James did contend that the beliefs of an individual were a crucial determinant of well-being. For example, in May 1895 he delivered a speech on the theme “Is Life Worth Living?” which he published in the “International Journal of Ethics” in October 1895. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1
These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.
A separate article about the quotation immediately above is available here.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.