This one had been on my list (I have a backlog of over forty quotes to investigate) for some time, but Warren Adams-Ockrassa sent it to me, saying “This just sounds so much like a Zig Ziglar quote that it’s more or less impossible for me to imagine Gotama ever saying anything even remotely like it” and this prompted me to do some digging around. I shared Warren’s suspicion that it was from the 20th century self-help genre.
I’d actually started researching this quote a few weeks ago, and had found it mainly attributed to Albert Schweitzer, with a minority plumping for — wait for it — Herman Cain.
I was extremely suspicious of the Albert Schweitzer attribution, partly because of the content, but also because all the attibutions I could find started in 2000 (henceforth to be known as “The Year Publishers’ Fact-Checking Died”). It’s not impossible that it’s one of his, but I’m skeptical. He did write about the “key to happiness” in Reverence for Life:
“People often say that only egotism can be justified by reason. What can I do to have it easy? That is their reason’s wisdom, nothing else. At most it can teach us a certain integrity and justice, and these things are more or less the recognized key to happiness.”
But there’s no mention of a “key to success.”
I was also suspicious of the Herman Cain attribution, but actually the oldest confirmed instance of this quote that I’ve found so far on Google Books is in an Oct. 13, 1996 interview in Parade Magazine: “I am the American dream.” In his book, CEO of Self (2001), Cain did say “Hope is the key to happiness, which is the key to success.” Close, but no cigar.
Herman Cain may have been quoting someone else — possibly even Schweitzer. I just don’t yet know the origins of this quotation.
One thing I’m sure of is that this is not a saying from the Buddhist tradition. I have found it on the web attributed to Schweitzer, on pages that appear to predate the Cain quote, for example here (March 8, 1993) and here (1995). But as yet I’ve no confirmation that Schweitzer actually said this.