“Life Is What Happens . . .” Isn’t a John Lennon Original

3051471866_f12b1460f5_mWho says you can’t learn anything from the comics? (Actually, I’ve never heard anyone say that, but it sounds like something somebody might say.)

Last week, in Jimmy Johnson’s Arlo and Janis comic strip, Arlo is looking at a calendar and ponders, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” He comments that we’ve probably heard that that line came from John Lennon, but it actually originated with Allen Saunders, the writer of the dramatic comic strips Mary Worth and Kerry Drake. Arlo closes with, “Lucky so-and-so never had to be funny!” (See the February 1 strip here.)

While I was a missionary in Taipei, I helped some Taiwanese friends study the Bible with the hopes that they would continue meeting when I wasn’t with them. One group was made up of students at a technology university and another consisted of former university students who had degrees from the US. This second group had started meeting at a McDonald’s for a weekly Bible study even before I met them. During one of my family’s trips to the States, hosts for each group planned to keep the meetings going while we were gone. One group met for two weeks, but then the host had to travel outside the country. And in the other group, the hosts weren’t able to continue organizing the meetings because of an illness in the family. In our monthly newsletter, I wrote,

It reminds us of John Lennon’s famous phrase: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  But even though their schedules didn’t work out as well as they, and we, had hoped, we are greatly encouraged by their desire and willingness to try.

I stand corrected by a comic-strip character. Lennon used the “Life is what happens . . .” line in his song “Beautiful Boy” in 1980, but according to Garson O’Toole of the Quote Investigator, that was over 20 years after a nearly identical phrase appeared in the “Quotable Quotes” section of Reader’s Digest. In the January 1957 issue, Saunders was given as the source of “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

So there you have it. All those quotation sites on the web should replace John Lennon with Allen Saunders.

Life often does get in the way of our plans, doesn’t it? Reminds me of the Yiddish proverb, “Man plans, God laughs.” At least I’m pretty sure it’s a Yiddish proverb. And I guess I’ll stick with that until Dilbert says otherwise.

(Garson O’Toole, “Life Is What Happens to You while You’re Busy Making Other Plans,” Quote Investigator, May 6, 2012)

[photo: “Funny Pages,” by summerbl4ck, used under a Creative Commons license]


5 thoughts on ““Life Is What Happens . . .” Isn’t a John Lennon Original

  1. I read this saying on a Hallmark greeting card years before Lennon used it, and immediately remembered it when the song came out!
    P.S. Oh, and while we’re at it – I also once saw an old song sheet from the ‘teens or 20’s for a song called “Golden Slumbers”, which included the lyrics: “golden slumbers fill your eyes, smile awake you when you rise”!


  2. If attribution is truly important, then it was neither John Lennon, nor a comic strip. Santayana coined the original quote: “Life is what happens while we are planning for something else.”


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