Life Is a Journey, Not a Destination

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Lynn H. Hough? Aerosmith? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Ralph Waldo Emerson is often credited with the following:

Life is a journey, not a destination.

I’ve searched the database without luck and did a text search through over 1100 pages of his essays. I believe this is a misattribution. Any insight you have into the lineage of this quote would be much appreciated.

Quote Investigator: QI believes that an exact match for the expression above has not been found in the oeuvre of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Yet, Emerson did write a thematically related remark [RWEJ]:

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.

This sentence suggested a psychological vantage point in which the intermediate advances of the journey were representative of the completion of the journey. This is arguably a distinct statement from the questioner’s saying which is listed in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” without attachment to a specific person [DPLJ].

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in 1920 in a periodical called “The Christian Advocate”. The phrase was used by the theologian Lynn H. Hough within his outline for a Sunday School Lesson discussing a letter from Simon Peter. Bold face has been added to the phrase here and some phrases below [LHCA]:

He wanted his friends to realize that life is a journey and not a destination; that the heart must be set upon those matters of character which are eternal and not upon those matters of sensation which pass away.

Interesting precursors of the expression were in circulation in the previous century. In 1854 “The Sunday at Home: A Family Magazine for Sabbath Reading” printed a “Page for the Young” with the following advice [SHPY]:

You should learn in early youth that your life is a journey, not a rest. You are travelling to the promised land, from the cradle to the grave.

In 1855 another religious text used a variant phrase and provided an explanation [PSJC]:

All life is a journey, not a home; it is a road, not the country; and those transient enjoyments which you have in this life, lawful in their way,—those incidental and evanescent pleasures which you may sip,—are not home; they are little inns only upon the road-side of life, where you are refreshed for a moment, that you may take again the pilgrim-staff and journey on, seeking what is still before you—the rest that remaineth for the people of God.

A decade later the passage above was reprinted in a collection entitled “A Cyclopaedia of Illustrations of Moral and Religious Truths”; however, it was labeled ANON [CRJB].

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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