When Life Gives You Lemons – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to cheer someone up after hearing bad news about their life? You could always use the saying, "when life gives you lemons. This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this proverb.


The meaning of the proverb, "when life gives you lemons," is to overcome your problems and look for a solution. It's an encouraging phrase meant to change a person's or the speaker's mindset to a positive state where they can look past the misfortune in their life.

The lemon in the phrase refers to the bitterness of the problem. Typically, people will pair this saying with "make lemonade." The lemonade means that you can turn the situation into a bitter-sweet success with the right mindset.

So, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is a popular saying in modern culture, substituting expressions like "every cloud has a silver lining."

Example Usage

John: "Josy just dumped me for Mike. I can't believe it. Oh well, at least now I have more time to hang out with the boys again."

Jim: "Hey, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right?"


"When life gives you lemons, paint them gold."

"When life gives you lemons, squeeze them in someone else's eyes."

"When life gives you lemons, do tequila shots."


The origin of the proverb, "when life gives you lemons," comes from Christian writer Elbert Hubbard. Hubbard writes an obituary in 1915 obituary for actor Marshall Pinckney Wilder. The title of the obituary is "The King of Jesters," praising Wilder's attitude and achievements while being disabled.

"He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that fate gave him and started a lemonade stand."

While Elbert Hubbard coined the expression, some language experts believe the more modern version comes from Dale Carnegie's "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living," published in 1948. The phrase appears as follows.

"If You Have a Lemon, Make a Lemonade."

Carnegie credits Julius Rosenwald for the phrase.

Phrases Similar to When Life Gives You Lemons

  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • Things are never as bad as they seem.
  • Don't cry over spilled milk.

Phrases Opposite to When Life Gives You Lemons

  • When everything is going right.
  • Life is great.
  • Living your best life.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • When life gives you lemons.
  • When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Ways People May Say When Life Gives You Lemons Incorrectly

Using the phrase to describe making lemonade by squeezing lemons is the incorrect use of the expression. So, using it to describe making homemade lemonade with lemons given to you by the tree in your yard would not be the proper use of the proverb.

The expression has nothing to do with lemons or lemonade, other than that lemons have a bitter taste. Lemonade is a bitter-sweet drink, showing you can turn events in your life around for the better.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase When Life Gives You Lemons

You can use the proverb "life gives you lemons" in professional and social situations where you're trying to lift other people's spirits. You can use the phrase to show someone your positive attitude after telling them about a recent misfortunate event in your life.

You could use it at work to tell a new salesperson to focus on the coming month after closing with a bad figure. In general, you're using the phrase as a way to tell someone things aren't as bad as they appear, and you should focus on making the best of the situation.

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