To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Well, once again, I have found words that resonate deeply with me. But, as I do so often when my writers submit articles that contain quotes, I did some research to verify that this really was attributable to Emerson. That ended up to be quite the rabbit hole. I find that to be the case with many quotes of old that I research. I almost always find that the submitted versions have punctuation errors, minor word changes or other variations of the original—and Pinterest, Brainy Quotes and Goodreads are some of the worst offenders for that. So, I dig deeper. There are good sites for that further digging.
In my research on this Emerson quote, it became fascinating the more I read, but I’m not sure I am any closer to solving whether or not he really did author it. There are apparently several attributions for it over the years. From QuoteInvestigator.com, I found a very interesting article, and I obviously don’t have room here to share it all, but here are a few tidbits: “A Boston firm recently offered several prizes for the best essay on the subject, ‘What Constitutes Success?’ It was stipulated that the essay must be under one hundred words in length. A Kansas woman, Mrs. A. J. Stanley of Lincoln, submitted a definition of success in the contest… Her definition was as follows:
He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.
“A considerably altered version of the piece was published in a syndicated newspaper column by Albert Edward Wiggam in 1951. When asked the question, ‘What is success?’ Wiggam decided to answer by presenting what he claimed was an abridged version of statements that he credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson.”
“In 1951, the syndicated column by Albert Edward Wiggam published a significantly altered version of the essay and attributed the words to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Although Wiggam also claimed that the passage was abridged, he presented no source.”
These are but a few paragraphs of many citations that discuss the potential origins of this one quote. I admit I’m a bit of a geek with this stuff, and one day, when I don’t have other people’s articles to edit, or this column to write, maybe I’ll be able to spend more time satisfying my curiosity on the origins of quotes I love. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the quotes themselves and hopefully make sure they are printed as accurately as possible!
Check out the full article if you are so inclined at bit.ly/3Jemf1y