Theodor Seuss Geisel? Ludwig Jacobowski? Christopher Roche? Gabriel García Márquez? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you have ever been part of a group with camaraderie that accomplished some worthwhile goal then you know about the sadness experienced when the group finally dissolved. Here are two versions of a saying that offers consolation:

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.Don’t cry because it’s ending, smile because it happened.

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These words have been attributed to Theodor Geisel who was better known as Dr. Seuss, the famous author of children’s literature; however, I have been unable to locate a good citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have been unable to locate any substantive evidence that Dr. Seuss employed this saying. He died in 1991, and it was assigned to him by 2002.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a work by the German poet Ludwig Jacobowski titled “Leuchtende Tage” published in the August 1899 issue of a literary journal. The title could be rendered as “Bright Days” or “Radiant Days”. One verse rhapsodized about the bright days of the past, and the next verse began with these two lines, Boldface has been added to excerpts:

Nicht weinen, weil sie vorüber! Lächeln, weil sie gewesen!

English translation:Do not cry because they are past! Smile, because they once were!

The journal was called “Das Magazin für Litteratur”, 1 and the piece was also published in a 1901 analytical work about the poet titled “Ludwig Jacobowski: Ein modernes Dichterbild”. These were the two full verses: 2

Ach, unsre leuchtenden TageGlänzen wie ewige Sterne.Als Trost für künftige KlageGlüh’n sie aus goldener Ferne.

Nicht weinen, weil sie vorüber! Lächeln, weil sie gewesen!Und werden die Tage auch trüber,Unsere Sterne erlösen!

Special thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who first identified German instances of the expression and performed pioneering research.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1988 “The Age” newspaper in Australia published a short death notice that included a variant of the saying aimed at the bereaved: 3

Cry not because she’s gone.Smile because she was here.

In July 1996 a message posted to the Usenet newsgroup called rec.humor contained seventeen miscellaneous one-line sayings. One statement presented an exact match, but no attribution was listed. Here were four of the lines: 4

A smile is the best way to bare your teeth.Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.Look up and smile for the satellite!The only way to have a friend is to be one.

In June 1998 an instance appeared in a graduation speech delivered by valedictorian Christopher Roche at Albertus Magnus High School. The “Rockland Journal-News” of Rockland County, New York reported the final remarks of the address: 5

Roche also left his class with a parting piece of advice, paraphrasing from the book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” written by his mentor, Dr. Seuss.

“Like Dr. Seuss tells us, today is our day. We’re off to great places, so let’s be on our way. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” counseled Roche.

The journalist closely linked the words to Dr. Seuss, and it was possible that some readers misinterpreted the article and ascribed the statements directly to the well-known writer. It was true that the book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” could have been condensed to yield: “Today is our day. We’re off to great places, so let’s be on our way”. But the quotation under examination: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” did not occur in the book, and did not really fit as a paraphrase. The graduation speaker might have intended this expression to stand separately.

In October 1998 a newspaper in Delaware published a story about a local coffee shop called “Brewed Awakenings” in Newark that maintained a community diary in the form of a hardcover book with inviting blank pages. Habitués of the establishment wrote poetry, advice, and miscellaneous musings. The instance of the saying was anonymous: 6

There are lyrical lines: “The children would play and laugh. The clock would tick as the day would fall…”

There are questions no one can answer: “Should I have married Nick instead?”

There are quotes to live by: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

In June 1999 a newspaper in Massachusetts reported on a high school graduation in Gardner during which the saying was employed without ascription: 7

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” Class President Michelle P. Lagasse told her classmates at Watkins Field.

Also in June 1999 a variant was spoken without attribution during the graduation held at Belchertown High School in Massachusetts: 8

Along with the class song, “Freebird,” made popular by the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, class Salutatorian Daniele Mathras also kept the theme of flight.

“Don’t cry because it’s ending, smile because it happened,” she said. “Remember, it’s easier to fly when you take yourself lightly.”

In February 2002 a student named Olivia Sandham was profiled in the “Rocky Mountain News” of Denver Colorado. She offered a nugget of wisdom that was ascribed to Dr. Seuss: 9

Advice: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” (Dr. Seuss)

The Wikiquote website has a webpage for “Dr. Seuss” which lists the quotation in a section called “Disputed” and notes the existence of an unlikely ascription to a Nobel Prize Winning Colombian novelist: 10

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Often attributed to Dr. Seuss without citation; also cited as an anonymous proverb.This quote has also been attributed to Gabriel García Márquez, in Spanish: “No llores porque ya se terminó, sonríe porque sucedió.”

In conclusion, based on current evidence QI believes that Ludwig Jacobowski should be credited with coining this saying in German. There was no substantive support for assigning the statement to Dr. Seuss or Gabriel García Márquez. The linkage to Seuss was present in the June 1998 citation, and the error may have been facilitated by this connection.

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(Great thanks to Saskia Sen whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks also to Barry Popik for his valuable work on this topic. Special thanks to Amy West for help understanding the German citations. All errors are the responsibility of QI.)

Updated History: On July 26, 2016 citations dated 1899, 1901, 1988, and 1996 were added; the conclusion and some other parts of the article were rewritten.