Life throws a lot at us, and nobody has ever lived without going through hardship. But since ancient times, various people have shared wisdom that has helped others to become inspired, overcome their struggles, and hold onto hope.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of five classic life lessons that can help you become your happiest self and seize every opportunity.
1. We all need meaning and purpose in our lives
Even if we’re lucky enough to live in a comfortable home, be surrounded by loved ones, and have a successful career, it’s still possible to experience a lack of meaning or purpose in our lives. This can leave us feeling like something’s missing or that we’re simply floating through life without direction.
While it can be difficult to slow down in today’s fast-paced technological world, taking time to explore what’s important to you and why your life might be lacking meaning and purpose can make a significant difference in how you feel.
Below are a few thought-provoking ideas to consider if you want to embark on that journey of exploration…
"What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do."
– Bob Dylan
Because of the pressures of modern life, it’s common for people to seek meaning through wealth. However, this is never as satisfying as it may seem.
While money is important to live comfortably and can give you opportunities to do what you love, it’s rarely a replacement for the things that fulfil us; like spending time with loved ones, engaging with art and the natural world, or helping and supporting others.
"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day that you find out why."
One of the most important achievements we can make in life is to work out how we want to spend it.
But, if you’re not sure what you want to do with your time, why not start exploring? The art and culture section of our website has plenty of inspirational ideas – from unusual hobbies you might not have tried to creative and practical craft projects.
Or, if you’re looking for inspiration to discover yourself, you might want to have a read of our article; 10 practices for self-exploration.
"The only way to do great work is to love what you do."
– Steve Jobs
Many people find fulfilment and meaning through their jobs. This can be especially true for those who do charitable work that benefits others, and those lucky enough to have developed a career in an area they feel passionate about.
If you think a career change could help you lead a more fulfilling life, you could begin your research using the jobs and careers section of our website.
If you feel apprehensive about the idea of making a career change later in life, the personal stories section of our website will hopefully give you a boost. Phil, for example, became a financial coach at 60, and Frances went from being an army colonel to a newly qualified teacher in her 50s.
"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else."
– Booker T. Washington
One of the best and simplest ways to add meaning to your life is to help those around you.
This can be easy to forget when we’re feeling lost, but sometimes just making a loved one smile and dedicating time to bettering your community can be the most fulfilling part of your day. Our article, Asking for help – why it can be difficult, what the benefits are, and how we can help others, has plenty more information on this.
If you’re looking for ways to incorporate more meaningful or charitable work into your life, you’ll find lots of opportunities on the volunteering section of our website. Or, for some ideas of what you could get up to, check out our article; 10 volunteering opportunities for over 50s.
For further help and advice on finding meaning and purpose, you might like to have a read of our articles; 5 ways to find purpose and meaning in your life and How to stay inspired during difficult times.
2. Motivation and discipline are the keys to self-mastery
Self-mastery is the process of learning how to live your life in the most effective and confident way possible, so you can reach your full potential without being blown off course.
Two of the biggest challenges to overcome when achieving self-mastery are finding motivation and cultivating self-discipline.
If motivation and self-discipline are two skills you’d like to work on, you’ll hopefully be able to take something away from the points below…
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily."
– Zig Ziglar
Motivation is what inspires us to focus on and set goals. But it goes hand-in-hand with self-discipline, and the two are different sides of the same coin.
Many would agree that setting ourselves goals is the easier part and that putting the work in to achieve those goals and remaining consistent is where the hard work comes in. This is why having self-discipline is important.
However, having self-discipline doesn’t mean being overly hard on yourself, as this can make sticking to your goals feel like a chore and keep motivation low – so it’s often worth setting yourself smaller, more manageable goals to begin with.
For example, if your goal is to increase your daily step count, you could commit to getting up half an hour earlier in the morning to go for a walk. Over time, as your body gets used to its new routine, you’ll likely feel more motivated to think of other ways to increase your steps.
You might like to have a read of our article, 8 tips to boost your motivation, for more ideas and inspiration.
"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
- Nelson Mandela
Having self-discipline often means being resilient and having the ability to push yourself forward and take action, regardless of how you’re feeling – and many wise people throughout time have taught the value of always picking ourselves up when we fall.
It’s important to remember that in many areas of life, progress isn’t always linear and we all fail from time to time.
Mistakes are also a necessary and unavoidable part of learning any skill, and what’s important is that we keep trying to do better and that we don’t give up.
When we accept that mistakes are inevitable, it becomes far easier to tolerate those moments when things don’t go to plan, so we can learn from them and move on.
"Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend."
- Bruce Lee
Life throws all sorts of obstacles and pitfalls at us, and one of the most useful skills we can have is the ability to stay calm and be flexible enough to take any situation as it comes.
If you can do this, you’ll hopefully find that your journey through day-to-day life becomes much smoother.
Red’s article, How being more adaptable will make your life easier, includes useful tips on how to improve your adaptability.
"There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing."
People who can take control of their lives without being held back by urges, circumstances, and feelings often find moving towards their goals much easier, and gain greater fulfilment from their days as a result.
Among many other things, taking control of our lives can mean not needing or seeking validation from others, and not altering our personality or behaviour to fit a mould that our peers have created for us.
For example, sometimes we might feel that it’s easier to hide parts of who we are to avoid judgement from others. But, as the famous ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle pointed out thousands of years ago: nobody is absolutely everyone’s cup of tea.
Hiding things that make you unique might help you to avoid criticism from others in the short term, but, chances are, you won’t be living your life to the fullest if you don’t let your personality shine through. It’s not uncommon for people in this position to lack the self-discipline and motivation needed to achieve their goals, simply because they aren’t living as authentically as they’d like.
Bustle has some tips on how to feel more comfortable in your own skin that you might find useful if this is something you struggle with.
3. Take advantage of the opportunities that come your way
Life can feel like a whirlwind at times, and it’s not always easy to fully take advantage of the experiences and opportunities that pass us by.
Fortunately, though, it’s possible to learn how to put yourself forward and get more out of life. Here are some things to consider that could help you to do just that…
"You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take."
– Wayne Gretzky
“Carpe diem”, a famous Latin motto attributed to the ancient roman poet Horace, means something to the effect of ‘seize the day’; the idea of taking advantage of every opportunity that life throws your way.
It’s not uncommon for us to look back on the things we wish we’d done, the people we wish we’d spoken to, and the experiences we wish we’d taken part in.
Though things don’t always turn out the way you want or expect them to, if we don’t put ourselves out there and give it a go, we’ll never know what could have been.
If you’re looking for some inspiration on how to start making the most of every opportunity (or even creating new opportunities), you might like to have a read of our article; 18 ways to step outside of your comfort zone.
"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
– Chinese Proverb
It’s easy to get caught up in decision paralysis and wait to act on what we want until it’s too late. But, in order to live life to the fullest, we need to learn to trust our own abilities and give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, rather than focusing on what could happen if we fail.
This involves listening more closely to our instincts and saying yes to what we want, even when we’re anxious about the outcome. While this can be daunting and may take time, sometimes the best things in life come from finding our courage and taking the leap.
These tips on how to go after what you want in life from Reliable Life Strategies offer a helpful place to start with this.
4. Our power comes from within
Unfortunately, sometimes what holds us back in life is our own self-esteem. We might think we’re not good enough, that we won’t succeed, or that others are simply better than us.
But when we realise our own potential and see the true value that lies within, many of our dreams and aspirations become easier to grasp.
Here are some points to consider that could help you to become the version of yourself that you want to be…
"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any."
– Alice Walker
It’s quite incredible how much our internal view of ourselves can affect our external actions. For example, low self-esteem can get in the way of our goals, and prevent us from trying new things and building happy relationships.
But the good news is that once you’re aware of this it becomes easier to regain control and take steps to boost your self-esteem – such as gaining more awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and learning when to say no.
"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced."
– Vincent Van Gogh
Empowerment can often come from doing something you’ve always wanted to do but have been too scared to try. For example, you might wish you could learn to play an instrument, draw, or write stories, but feel that you might not have the talent.
Though the truth is that anyone can learn a new skill, and it can be an uplifting experience. In fact, studies have linked learning with improved self-esteem.
If you’re on the lookout for your new passion, you might find the learning section of our website a good place to start. Here you’ll find everything from creative skills you can learn from home to skilled outdoor activities.
And for more advice on how to rise above the self-deprecating thoughts that can hold us all back at times, you might find our article, 7 powerful ways to conquer self-limiting beliefs, helpful.
"Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
– Eleanor Roosevelt
Learning to love ourselves and appreciate our strengths can help us to see how much we have to offer.
One way to practise self-love is to start journaling. Keeping a journal allows you to lay out your strengths and qualities on paper, which makes them easier to internalise. Journaling is also a great way to practise gratitude and, help you to maintain a healthy sense of perspective on your life.
Amazon has a range of journals available to buy if you’d like to get started.
"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."
We’re often reminded not to have double standards for other people, but it’s important that we apply this way of thinking to ourselves too.
Instead of taking on too much and beating yourself up if you can’t get it all done or comparing your progress to that of others, try to take the time to recognise your achievements – both big and small – and approach yourself the same way that you would a good friend.
Self-affirmations can be useful here. Deliberately reminding yourself of your value, what you bring to the people around you, and that you deserve happiness, can encourage you to be kinder to yourself.
To learn more about how to do this, you might want to have a read of our article on self-affirmations.
5. Mindfulness can unlock many doors
Mindfulness is a technique that helps you to examine your thoughts and feelings and focus your attention on the present moment.
Learning to practise the skill of mindfulness can lead to a better understanding of how you respond to different situations and what you really want out of life.
Hopefully, you’ll find some food for thought in our tips below…
"An unexamined life is not worth living."
– Socrates, via Plato
Mindfulness is a key skill that can help us to make the most of all the advice set out above. This is because, among many things, mindfulness can increase self-awareness, combat stress, and teach you to be good to yourself.
Being more mindful involves slowing down and taking a deliberate step back to acknowledge your thoughts. Often, this encourages us to appreciate the little things in life that we can take for granted, which can lead to greater life satisfaction.
Mindfulness can also be used as a tool to help us let go of the past. Knowingly or not, many of us are held back by past experiences, and untethering ourselves from these can be liberating.
"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you want to achieve something in life, it’s important to be an active player in shaping your path. Only by being true to yourself will you reach your goals – and this requires self-understanding.
Practising mindfulness can help you to become more aware of what you want in life – be it in the immediate moment, or in life more generally – which can be easier to lose sight of than we might think.
For more information on mindfulness and how to get started, you might want to have a read of our introductory guide. You might also be interested in tuning into one of the meditation workshops over on Rest Less Events.
We hope that one or more of these classic life lessons rings true with you, or inspires some ideas about how you can become more empowered and take steps towards the life you want to lead.
Though life can challenge us in unbelievable ways, it’s also full of bright spots – and how we deal with both is heavily affected by our relationship with ourselves.