When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. – Elbert Hubbard


Did you know that the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” has been around since the early 1900s? It encourages optimism and a positive attitude in the face of adversity and motivates individuals to make the best of difficult circumstances. What then should we do when life throws us bitterness, problems, and negativity? Well, keep reading to learn more about this wise and timeless saying from Elbert Hubbard.

Elbert Hubbard

Who was Elbert Hubbard?

Elbert Green Hubbard, the son of Francis and physician Silas Hubbard, was born on June 19, 1856, in Bloomington, Illinois. Hubbard is a well-known American author of Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great (Vols. 1-9), a collection of one hundred and eighty biographies of important literary figures like Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Jonathan Swift, William Shakespeare, and Walt Whitman. He was also a lecturer, critic, publisher, novelist, essayist, and biographer [1].

Elbert Hubbard Portrait

Additionally, Hubbard started the avant-garde magazine The Philistine, which he ultimately authored all by himself. The Philistine published a piece titled “A Message to Garcia” in 1899 that used a Spanish-American War incident to illustrate the value of determination. Hubbard started editing and publishing The Fra in 1908 as a second monthly. His printing business eventually grew to include furniture and leather stores, a smithy, and an art school. Hubbard died when the ocean liner Lusitania sank [2].

Origin of the Quote

Sign about Hubbard, Hubbard’s Shop

Elbert Hubbard was a Christian anarchist writer. The political theology movement known as “Christian anarchism” holds that anarchism is a fundamental component of both Christianity and the Gospels. It is based on the conviction that there is only one authority to which Christians are ultimately accountable—authority God’s as manifested in Jesus’ teachings. Therefore, it opposes the notion that human governments have the final say in how human societies are governed. Christian anarchists criticize the state because they see it as violent, dishonest, and arrogant when it is praised [3].

Hubbard first used the expression in a 1915 obituary he wrote and had printed for dwarf actor Marshall Pinckney Wilder also known at the King of Jesters.  Wilder was an actor, monologist, humorist, and sketch [4].  Hubbard’s obituary of Wilder, praises his positive outlook and accomplishments despite his limitations. An excerpt is found below [5]:

Marshall Wilder

“He was a walking refutation of that dogmatic statement, Mens sana in corpore sano. His was a sound mind in an unsound body. He proved the eternal paradox of things. He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade stand.”

Although Hubbard is credited with the phrase’s origin, Dale Carnegie is often cited as having first used it in the 1948 publication How to Stop Worrying and Start Living [5].

Meaning of the Quote

When life gives you lemons, as the saying goes, seek a way to make the “sour” experience into a “sweet” one. It’s an uplifting expression designed to shift the listener or speaker’s attitude to one that allows them to see past their setbacks. The lemon in the phrase indicates how bitter the issue is. The phrase “make lemonade” is frequently used in conjunction with this one to convey the idea that, with the appropriate attitude, you can convert a difficult circumstance into a bitter-sweet success [6].

However, this quote can be much easier said than done. That is why here are some key ideas that can be extracted from the quote.

Think Differently

Think Differently

In The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, Joseph Murphy argues that choosing happiness is the key to happiness [7]. Negative thoughts are quite harmful and might keep you from finding inner peace. You must picture success and push away negative ideas if you wish to choose happiness and success.

Nowhere to go but up

Up arrow

According to the lyrics of the Mary Poppins Returns song Nowhere to Go but Up, “Life’s a balloon that tumbles or rises depending on what is inside. Fill it with hope and playful surprises.” You don’t have to remain in a difficult situation just because you’re in it right now. Remember that the arrow is pointing up: there is only one route out of a bad situation, and that is up.

Don’t Give Up

Don’t Quit

The benefit of having a positive outlook on life is having the drive to motivate you to take action. When you are confident in your abilities, you can overcome obstacles that may otherwise prevent you from succeeding. Comparable to Col. Harland Sanders’s life-changing chicken recipe narrative. Before hearing his first yes, he was turned down 1009 times by various restaurants. Colonel Hartland Sanders transformed American chicken consumption with that one triumph. It was the beginning of Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC.


Hubbard was able to use the example of the actor Wilder and how he overcame his physical challenges to find success.  In doing so he helped to coin the popular phrase “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade” to encourage people to make best of their situation.


[1] The Literature Network. (n.d). Elbert Hubbard. Retrieved from http://www.online-literature.com/elbert-hubbard/ [Accessed September 01, 2022]

[2] Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2022). Elbert Hubbard. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Elbert-Hubbard/ [Accessed September 01, 2022]

[3] Wikipedia. (n.d). Christian anarchism. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_anarchism/ [Accessed September 02, 2022]

[4] Wikipedia. (n.d). Marshall Pinckney Wilder. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Pinckney_Wilder/ [Accessed September 02, 2022]

[5] Wikipedia. (n.d). When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_life_gives_you_lemons,_make_lemonade/ [Accessed September 01, 2022]

[6] Pearson. (2022). When Life Gives You Lemons – Meaning, Origin and Usage. Retrieved from https://english-grammar-lessons.com/when-life-gives-you-lemons-meaning/ [Accessed September 01, 2022]

[7] The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy Summary and Review. (2022). Story Shots. Retrieved from https://www.getstoryshots.com/books/the-power-of-your-subconscious-mind-summary/ [Accessed September 02, 2022]


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