Life lessons for happiness: things I wish I'd known when I was 20

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Life lessons for happiness: three generations of family

Follow our seven steps to boost your emotional well-being. These simple suggestions can help you in the pursuit of happiness

Have you found the secret to a happy life? Hindsight is a wonderful thing – but it's never too late to put the lessons you've learned into practice.

What would you tell your younger self: does any of this advice ring true, or would your list be different?

Life Lesson 1: It’s fine to fail

Resilience is something of a buzzword right now, so this fits with the zeitgeist – and it’s also spot on. We’re all going to fail at something in our lives; probably several times in fact. But that’s ok. Almost every successful person will tell you that they failed on the way up, and that it was one of the best things that happened to them. Why? Because they learnt something important from it. Failure isn’t the end of the road, it’s a pit stop on the path to success. As Abraham Lincoln – a pretty successful person – said: ‘My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.’

Read more of our advice on well-being:

Life Lesson 2: Don’t spend on stuff, spend on experiences

It’s tempting to think that your life will be soooo much better if you have that new pair of shoes/sofa/phone. But you’ll take it for granted before you know it, and then there’ll be something else on your must-have list. Instead, if you save up for something that you do and share with people, rather than something to possess, it will give you so much more. A weekend away with great friends, a family holiday, a wine-tasting course or driving experience – the list is endless, but what holds it together is that each will give you great memories that will still make you smile decades later. That new phone? It will be long forgotten.

Life lessons for happiness: travel adventures

Experiences will stay with you for years to come, while that must-have purchase will be quickly forgotten

Life Lesson 3: Listen to that little voice

You know what I mean. We all have it – your gut instinct, that voice in your head, your subconscious or whatever you want to call it. The thing is, we’re pretty good at ignoring it, especially when it’s telling us something we don’t really want to hear. But acknowledge it, even if you don’t pay heed in the end. Whatever it’s trying to tell you is worth considering, at least – ignore it at your peril.

Life Lesson 4: Excuses rarely excuse you

Some excuses are genuinely valid, of course, but there are a whole heap of them that just, well, aren’t. You know that and so will the person listening to you. I was too tired. I didn’t have time. My phone ran out of juice. The traffic was bad.

What do they all actually mean? Either that you didn’t make it a priority, or you weren’t well organised. You’ll feel better (and so will they) if you simply apologise and maybe even own up to poor planning – it has more integrity than a lame excuse.

Life lessons for happiness: family holiday

Make the most of opportunities as they arise – seize the day!

Life Lesson 5: Don’t save it for best

Whether it’s a cashmere sweater or a vintage bottle of port, make the most of it. Don’t hang back from enjoying it because you think today isn’t special enough – the sweater is too good to wear every day, or the occasion isn’t big enough to warrant opening the bottle. You know what might happen? You’ll pull out that sweater to find moth holes in it, or open the vintage port to find that it’s past its best. The same goes for making that trip that you’ve never done because the time isn’t right. When will it be? Don’t put things off – enjoy them!

Life Lesson 6: Meet the future you

It doesn’t come easily to think of an older you, especially when you’re young. But if you actively visualise a future you – specifically, who you’d like to be, and how you’d like to be living, it’s much easier to look after your health and your finances and make that a priority. Give it a go.

Life Lesson 7: Keep in touch

We’re all busy, right? But relationships and interaction are what make us human, and they’re worth investing time in. When you meet someone you connect with, whether it’s on the bus or on holiday, don’t be embarrassed to ask for contact details and keep in touch. At the same time, don’t let old school friends fall by the wayside simply because you haven’t made the effort. Networks, even if that sound like a cynical term, can be extremely beneficial for all kinds of reasons – not least of which that we all diminish without social contact. If it’s not a good relationship that’s another matter, and it’s equally important to be able to walk away if you know someone isn’t good for your psyche.

Life lessons for happiness: retired friends

The importance of friendship for your emotional and physical well-being is often underestimated

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