My 33 Favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes


Ralph Waldo Emerson was born May 25, 1803 in Boston, MA. He’s considered one of the great American voices of the 19th Century. He was an essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet. He is remembered as a champion of individualism in the face of societal encroachment and one of the leaders of the Transcendentalist movement in the United States.

Here are my 10 favorite Emerson quotes. He has so many. I’d love to read yours in the comments below.

  1. You become what you think about all day long.

  2. To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

  3. Most of the shadows in this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.

  4. For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.

  5. What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

  6. Always do what you are afraid to do.

  7. Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

  8. Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.

  9. The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.

  10. Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.

  11. Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.

  12. Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it!

  13. Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

  14. A great man is always willing to be little.

  15. Don’t be too timid or squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.

  16. The earth laughs in flowers.

  17. You can never do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon will be too late.

  18. The only way to have a friend is to be one.

  19. Our chief want is someone to inspire us to be what we know we could be.

  20. Shallow men believe in luck or circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.

  21. A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.

  22. To be great, is to be misunderstood.

  23. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

  24. It is easy to live for others. Everybody does it. I call on you to live for yourself.

  25. Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting some on yourself.

  26. The mind once stretched by a new idea never returns to its original dimensions.

  27. Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.

  28. Nothing external to you has any power over you.

  29. Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

  30. The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

  31. That which we persist in becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.

  32. People only see what they are prepared to see.

Emerson died April 27, 1882, having left those of us who came behind wiser and more enlightened for his having been here. One final quote that belies the value of this list, but says something of Emerson’s individualist philosophy.

“I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” I think here he was sharing a thought similar to Oscar Wilde’s, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” In other words, if I may rephrase Emerson, speak what’s inside of you . Don’t just parrot what others have said.