Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

John Lennon? Allen Saunders? Quin Ryan? Walter Ward? Henry Cooke? Robert Balzer? L. S. McCandless? Publilius Syrus? Thomas a Kempis?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, a medical emergency threw all my carefully constructed plans into complete disarray. I was reminded of a remarkably astute and ruefully humorous saying credited to the musical superstar John Lennon:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

When did he say this? Was he the first to express this idea?

Quote Investigator: John Lennon did compose a song containing this saying and released it in 1980. The song was called “Beautiful Boy” or “Darling Boy” and it was part of the album “Double Fantasy”. Lennon wrote the lyrics about his experiences with his son Sean whose mother is Yoko Ono. In 2012 YouTube had a streamable version of the song, and the phrase could be heard at 2 minutes 16 seconds into the track which had a total length of 4 minutes 12 seconds. Lennon sang the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Before you cross the street take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

But the general expression can be traced back more than two decades before this time. The first known appearance was in an issue of Reader’s Digest magazine dated January 1957. The statement was printed together with nine other unrelated sayings in a section called “Quotable Quotes”: 2

Allen Saunders: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.
—Publishers Syndicate

The newspaper comic strip “Steve Roper” was written by an individual named Allen Saunders and distributed by Publishers Syndicate. It is likely that the attribution above was referencing him. Saunders also worked on the strips “Mary Worth” and “Kerry Drake.” But the saying has not yet been located in any of these comics. Three important reference works list the Reader’s Digest citation to Saunders: The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs 3, The Quote Verifier 4, and The Yale Book of Quotations. 5

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans


  1. YouTube video, Title: John Lennon – Beautiful Boy, Uploaded by TheInnerRevolution on Nov 22, 2009. (Accessed at on May 4, 2012) link
  2. 1957 January, Reader’s Digest, Quotable Quotes, Page 32, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Page 145, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 123-124 and 305, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Allen Saunders, Page 666, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)