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This quote has been variously attributed to Mark Twain (for example, here and here and here and here, with varying amounts of surrounding discussion).

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

Did Mark Twain really say this? If so, where? If not, who did?

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This was investigated in 2016 by Garson O’Toole (aka ‘Quote Investigator’) who traced the quotation back to a 1970 sermon by Ernest Campbell:

It has been said that the two most important days of a man’s life are the day on which he was born and the day on which he discovers why he was born. This is why we were born: To love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Ernest T. Campbell (25 January 1970). Sermons from Riverside, p. 8. New York: The Riverside Church.

Campbell introduced the quotation with “It has been said” suggesting that it was not original to him, but no-one has been able to find an earlier citation. Earlier writers identified different days as the “most important”; O’Toole gives this example:

Of the two most important days in a man’s existence, he remembers absolutely nothing. One is the day on which he is ushered onto earth—the other the day when he departs therefrom. His first articulate sound is a plaintive cry for food; his last is often a more plaintive appeal to God.

W. S. Blatchley (1906). Boulder Reveries, p. 70. Indianapolis: Nature Publishing.

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