Different forms of this putative Voltaire quote:
I have decided to be happy because it's good for my health. (Approximately 12,800 attributions to Voltaire, as of 2012-10-30)
I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health (Approximately 11,400 attributions to Voltaire, as of 2012-10-30)
I decided to be happy, it is excellent for one's health. (Approximately 1,760 attributions to Voltaire, as of 2012-10-30)
J'ai décidé d'être heureux parce que c'est bon pour la santé. (Approximately 292,000 attributions to Voltaire, as of 2012-10-30)
J'ai décidé d'être heureux, c'est meilleur pour la santé (Approximately 12,700 attributions to Voltaire, as of 2012-10-30)
J'ai décidé d'être heureux parce que c'est bon pour ma santé. (Approximately 2,730 attributions to Voltaire, as of 2012-10-30)
J'ai décidé d'être heureux, c'est excellent pour la santé. (Approximately 432 attributions to Voltaire, as of 2012-10-30)
This quote is DISTORTED, but basically genuine.
The original quote is from a public letter by Voltaire dated April 17, 1761 and addressed to the Abbé Trublet:
Ayant fait réflexion, depuis quelques années, qu'on ne gagnoit rien à être bon homme, je me suis mis à être un peu gai, parce qu'on m'a dit que cela est bon pour la santé.
This is translated by Barbara Bray and Helen R. Lane in their 1979 translation of Orieux's Voltaire, as follows:
It is true that, on having reflected for some years now that scarcely anything was to be gained by being so, I have begun to be somewhat merry because I have been told that that is good for one's health. (Letter to the Abbé Trublet, April 17, 1761).
A 1762 English translation of the Voltaire-Trublet exchange renders it rather differently:
Indeed, some late reflections that little was got by being such, have given me something of a sportive vivacious turn, and, I am told, it promotes health.
In investigating the source of this quote, all trails initially led back to the 1990 French film Milou en mai, released in the US as May Fools, a dark comedy directed by Louis Malle.
As of October 2012, Google Books shows very little use of any of the common English forms of the quote, with or without attribution to Voltaire, suggesting that it did not actually become widespread until very recently. One exception is Bruce Adamson's 2004 The Best Things Ever Said In the Dark, which includes it only as a quote from May Fools.
The earliest English citation for any version of this quote appears to be from a 1991 issue of Film Review, at the end of a review of May Fools:
Milou (Michel Piccoli) - the 60-year-old bohemian son and remaining occupant of the estate - must recover his balance and opts for the Voltaire solution: 'I decided to be happy - because it's healthier.'
The presumed French original of the quote likewise does not appear in print until the advent of May Fools. The most commonly asserted French version of the quote -- "J'ai décidé d'être heureux parce que c'est bon pour la santé" -- appears in three texts from 1990, all relating to the movie: one is the script of the movie itself, and the others are reviews of it. Search finds no earlier occurrences, and the quote does not start to be appear independently of the movie until c. 1995.
However, searching for "bon pour la santé" voltaire led to the 1761 letter to Trublet, which is the presumed source of the 1990 line that has spread across the internet.
- Bruce Adamson (2004). The Best Things Ever Said in the Dark: The Wisest, Wittiest, Most Provocative Quotations from the Movies. http://books.google.com/books?id=jmpqeCS84OIC&pg=PA38#v=onepage&q=%22i%20decided.
- Film Review 1991-1992. p. 78. http://books.google.com/books?id=rA0IAQAAMAAJ.