No evidence John Lennon quote about happiness is real

13 May 2022
What was claimed

John Lennon once said: “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

Our verdict

There’s no evidence of John Lennon ever telling this anecdote.

A quote attributed to John Lennon, recounting a childhood story about an interaction with his teacher, has been shared on Facebook

The full quote says: “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. 

“They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

Despite versions of this appearing many times online, Full Fact could find no trace of the former Beatle using these words in an interview.

We often see quotes wrongly attributed to actors, politicians and other famous people as part of our work fact-checking online misinformation.

None of the posts we saw containing Mr Lennon’s supposed story included a date, and there doesn’t appear to be any other evidence of when or where he may have said it.

Quote Investigator, a website which (as the name suggests) investigates the source of viral quotes, also could not find any evidence to support the attribution of the quote to Mr Lennon. 

According to Quote Investigator, a similar anecdote was told by actor Goldie Hawn in a 1992 Vanity Fair article when, in response to a question about her future goals, she said: “People used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I’d say ‘Happy!’ That was all I wanted to be.” She also told a similar story in her 2005 autobiography, ‘A Lotus Grows In The Mud’. 

A similar story was traced to a 1960 edition of the popular US cartoon strip Peanuts. 

Beyond the lack of evidence available, biographical details of Mr Lennon’s life—as reported by Radio X in its article about the quote—mean it’s unlikely that he said this. 

The musician did know his biological parents as a very young child, but was separated from them both aged five and was raised by his aunt.

Radio X also noted that the phrasing “I didn’t understand the assignment” may indicate an American rather than British source. 

Image courtesy of Eric Koch 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as false because there is no evidence that John Lennon ever said this.

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