Chances are, you’ve been told at some point in your life that “good things come to those who wait”—whether by a parent as a child when you were acting irritable and restless on a car trip or Christmas Eve, or by a friend as an adult to help you feel more positive about the state of your career or relationship. Let’s explore the meaning of the phrase and the origin of this well-known proverb.
What Does Good Things Come to Those Who Wait Mean?
The expression good things come to those who wait is a synonym for the proverbial saying patience is a virtue. It means that patience is typically rewarded, and that people who are patient will often get what they want and achieve their goals and desires.
What exactly does it mean to be patient?
Patience (noun): Patience means the act of being patient. An adjective, patient means to withstand or tolerate a difficult time or challenging waiting period, and to do so in a calm manner without getting overly restless, anxious, or annoyed. Patience is the act of accepting a delay or hardship without complaining about the time it’s taking or any hurdles and obstacles. It’s also the act of persevering quietly, steadily, and diligently. To be patient is to be the opposite of hasty, which means to do things in a hurried and eager, thus impatient, way.
Here are some example sentences using the expression good things come to those who wait:
- I’m glad my mother taught me that good things come to those who wait: I worked hard and paid my dues in my career while waiting patiently for the right opportunity to come my way. Recently, I applied for and was given a major promotion to a leadership position, and I couldn’t be happier.
- My boyfriend and I have been together a year now, and he hasn’t brought up moving in together or getting married yet. My friends keep reminding me that good things come to those who wait, but I’m getting a little impatient because I really love him and want things to move forward.
- With investing, it pays, literally, to remain calm and have self-control: Markets fluctuate, but history suggests you experience fewer losses and greater gains over longer periods of time. That’s why I always tell my wealth management clients that good things come to those who wait.
- To be a gardener is to know that good things come to those who wait. Every spring, I plant my seeds then wait calmly (while watering them, of course). Sure enough, come spring, I’m rewarded with delicious herbs and vegetables.
You may also see or hear different variations of the saying used, including all things come to those who wait and all good things come to those who wait. Instead of who, variations of the phrase may use a pronoun, such as him/he or her/she, or the word that.
The Origins of the Expression
Although language experts generally believe the phrase dates to before the 19th century, possibly as early as the 16th century, credit for the expression is usually given to the British poet Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie, who wrote under the pseudonym Violet Fane. She used the saying in her poem Tout Vient a Qui Sait Attendre (which translates to the saying itself), likely written in the late 1800s:
“All hoped-for things will come to you
Who have the strength to watch and wait,
Our longings spur the steeds of Fate,
This has been said by one who knew.
‘Ah, all things come to those who wait,’
(I say these words to make me glad),
But something answers soft and sad,
‘They come, but often come too late.’”
As you can see, she used a variation of the saying as we do today, to convey that patience helps one get the results they desire.
Possibly as evidence the phrase was in use and circulation before Violet Fane’s poem was published, Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying, “Great things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” However, there’s a great deal of doubt out there as to whether the 16th president actually uttered these words. (More on Lincoln’s supposed quote in a moment.)
What Is a Proverb?
The popular expression good things come to those who wait is a proverb. A proverb is a short, common phrase or saying that imparts advice or shares a universal truth. Synonyms of the term proverb include adage, aphorism, and maxim. Here are some additional examples of well-known proverbs:
As mentioned earlier, good things come to those who wait is a synonym for another proverb: patience is a virtue.
Is the Proverb Right—Do Good Things Really Come to Those Who Wait?
You may have heard another proverbial saying that suggests the opposite is true: Fortune favors the bold. In other words, that courageous and brave action, rather than patience, is typically rewarded. Indeed, Lincoln’s purported quote, shared above, implies that those who wait will be left with only the scraps of those who take initiative and just go for it.
How can both phrases be right at the same time? How can there be two universal truths that stand in opposition to one another? It’s all about context. In many instances, being able to wait and practice patience, to tolerate something that might take a long time, is the right or wise path to take, because doing so will keep you as calm and happy as possible in the moment. In these instances, being patient is important and vital to your well-being. That said, there are also certainly occasions in which it’s not worth waiting, and that it pays to be bold; for example, applying for the dream job you’ve always wanted that never comes open even if it might make for some immediate complications.
Interestingly, in general, science does support the wisdom of good things come to those who wait. For example, research suggests that patient people enjoy better mental health and even physical health; tend to be more empathetic, selfless, forgiving, generous, and cooperative; and are more likely to reach their goals, as well as experience greater satisfaction once they achieve them. <H2>Summary<H2>
Good things come to those who wait conveys the idea that patience is often rewarded, and that patient people are likely to get what they desire and to accomplish their objectives. It is meant to be motivational. The saying is a proverb, although not everyone believes its wisdom to be true. However, generally speaking, studies seem to support the notion.