You know the old saying, “Youth is wasted on the young?”
I think about that on occasion — how I wish I’d had the self-awareness, confidence, and joy I have now when I was in my twenties and thirties.
So much of life is wasted on worry, regret, pain, and heartache. Of course some of this is inevitable and necessary. But I spent too many of my younger days sweating over things I didn’t need to sweat about.
I simply didn’t know better. Or if I did, it just hadn’t sunk in yet.
I suppose “life lessons” are called that for a reason. You need to experience life in order to learn the lessons. And the more life you experience, the more lessons you accumulate. However, some extremely valuable lessons came from other people. Some I learned from reading great thinkers like Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie. Others were passed on from friends and family.
Although some lessons must be learned through experience, you don’t have to wait until midlife to become aware of what’s truly meaningful and worthwhile. You simply need the curiosity and desire for self-awareness and personal growth. Once you learn the lessons, you can apply them in your life at any age and see the benefits to your happiness and well-being.
Here are 50 important life lessons that have stood the test of time:
1. Life is now
We keeping waiting for that amazing thing to happen in the future that will be the key to our happiness. But this is it. Right now. Life continues to be a series of right nows. So learn to love right now, and you’ll have an amazing life.
2. Fear is an illusion (mostly)
Most of the things we fear never happen. Or if they do happen, they are rarely as bad as we fear they will be. For most of us, fear is the worst thing that will happen to us. Reality isn’t as painful.
3. Relationships rule
At the end of the day, what matters most are the people in our lives. Put them first every single day. Before work. Before the computer. Before your hobbies. Treat them like they are everything to you. Because they are.
4. Debt isn’t worth it
Nothing is more draining and humiliating than being in debt. Spend below your means. Save money. Live free.
5. Your kids aren’t you
You are the vessel to bring your children into the world and their caretakers until they can care for themselves. You can teach them, love them, and support them, but you can’t change them. They are unique individuals who must live their own lives. Let them.
6. Things gather dust
Time and money spent accumulating material things will one day irritate you. You must clean, maintain, and move stuff. The less stuff you have, the more free you are. Purchase mindfully.
7. Fun is underrated
How much of your day is fun? Really fun? Life is short. We should enjoy it. Don’t make things serious that don’t have to be. Create more fun in your life. Don’t worry about what other people think of your fun. Just enjoy it.
8. Failure is good
We try so hard to avoid failure, but failure is the real evidence that we’ve tried. If you avoid failure, you avoid taking action. Expect and accept that failure is part of the experience. Learn from it and move on.
9. Friendships need care
One of the top five regrets of the dying is that they let their friendships fade away. Friendships need time and attention. Nurture them like a prized garden. The payoff is so worth it.
10. Experiences first
The pleasure and positive memories afforded by great experiences far outweigh material things. If you’re trying to decide between the new sofa or the family trip, take the trip every time.
11. Anger isn’t worth it
The feel-good release of anger lasts a few minutes. The repercussions last far longer. Regret, stress, and unhappiness are the byproducts of angry outbursts. Learn healthier ways to communicate your feelings, and when anger arises, step away until it dissipates.
12. Kindness matters
Small expressions of kindness have an enormous positive impact on other people. It doesn’t take much to be kind. Practice it every day, in every situation, until it’s your natural way of being.
13. Age is a number
When you’re twenty you think fifty is old. When you’re fifty, you feel thirty. Our chronological age doesn’t have to define us. Don’t allow a number to hold you back or prevent you from being the person you are inside.
14. Vulnerability heals
Being real, open, and vulnerable invites people in and allows them to relate to you on a much deeper and more intimate level. Vulnerability, practiced with safe and loving people, can heal emotional pain and strengthen relationships.
15. Posturing builds walls
Creating a persona to impress or shield yourself from pain diminishes intimacy and authenticity. People generally see through this, and it pushes them away.
16. Exercise is power
Exercise should be a daily priority for everyone. It makes you physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger. It improves your health and your outlook. It is the panacea for just about everything.
17. Grudges cause pain
Holding on to a grudge is like injecting poison into your body every day. Forgive and let go. There’s no other way.
18. Passion upgrades life
When you find that thing you love to do with all your heart, every day feels like a gift. If you haven’t found your passion, make it your mission to find it. The joy it brings spills over into all aspects of your life.
19. Travel expands you
Travel makes you are more interesting, insightful, and accepting person. It expands you, enlightens you, and teaches you about the variety of people, lifestyles, and cultures. It is a pursuit well worth saving for.
20. You aren’t always right
We think we have the answers, know what’s right and wrong, good and bad, best for ourselves and other people. But we aren’t always right. There’s always more than one version. There are many perspectives that are valid. Keep yourself open to that truth.
21. It will pass
Whatever is causing you worry or pain right now won’t cause you worry and pain forever. Time heals. Things change. It will pass.
22. You define meaning
A meaningful life is what you define it to be. If you neglect to define meaning, you won’t experience it. Decide what makes life worth living for you, and then design your life around that.
23. Risk expands you
To make positive change in your life, you often must take risk. You must tolerate some level of uncertainty. Taking thoughtful, calculated risk strengthens your change muscle and helps you grow.
24. Change is good
Life is change. We shouldn’t resist it. Remaining stagnant is in opposition to the natural order of life. Flow with change. Embrace it and regard it as an adventure.
25. Thoughts aren’t real
Every moment of the day, we have random thoughts floating through our brains. Many of the thoughts are negative and limiting. You don’t have to believe them. They aren’t the truth or the whole truth. Thoughts can become our reality, but only if we let them.
26. You can’t control others
We want people to think and behave as we do. We want them to accommodate us and live the way we think they should live. We want to change them. But with awareness, we realize we can’t and shouldn’t try to control others. Instead, embrace differences and honor the uniqueness of the people in your life.
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27. Your body is a temple
We all have something, or many somethings, we hate about our bodies. But your body houses your very essence. Treat your body with respect and care for the efficient and wondrous way it takes care of you.
28. Touch heals
Physical touch is healing and intimate. It bonds us to other people and relieves stress and anxiety. It has a myriad of health benefits such as lowering heart rate and improving the immune system. Mindful, loving touch with those you love is a gift that should be shared.
29. You can handle it
Whatever you think you can’t handle, you actually can. You have more strength, more resilience, and more inner wisdom than you give yourself credit for. You’ll get through it and survive.
30. Gratitude multiplies happiness
Consciously focusing on all you have rather than thinking about what you don’t have is a far better use of brain power. Gratitude fosters positivity and well-being.
31. Intuition counts
Your judgement is important, but your intuition super charges your judgement. Intuition is data from your subconscious mind, based on your past experiences and patterns in life. It can arise spontaneously when you are called on to make a decision or need information.
32. Please yourself first
Pleasing others for approval and acceptance might feel good in the short term, but eventually you will lose yourself and feel resentful. Please yourself first and give to others based on conscious choice, not the desire for approval.
33. Self-honesty is freedom
When you are in denial about something, you are blinding yourself to the truth. And even if the truth is temporarily painful, it will ultimately set you free. Be radically honest with yourself so you can live authentically.
34. Perfection is boring
Perfection is unattainable, and the pursuit of it makes us boring. It is our differences, our foibles, and our imperfections that connect us to humanity and make us real.
35. Serving creates meaning
If you want meaning in your life, start with serving others. Find a way to make a difference, even a small difference, and your life will feel purposeful.
36. Little things matter
It’s not the big wins, the great accomplishments, or the status in life that really count. It’s the accumulation of little things — the quiet moments in nature, special time with our kids, seeing the smile on our spouse’s face when we walk in the door. Pay attention to these things.
37. Learn forever
There is so much to learn and explore in our very short lifetimes. Take advantage of learning every single day. Challenge yourself to acquire a new skill, read something different, take a class. Learning keeps our minds engaged and sharp, even into old age.
38. Aging happens
Our bodies age. It is a truth we can’t avoid. You can manage aging by doing the best with what you’ve got. But beyond that, do your best to let it go. Enjoying life is the best antidote to getting older.
39. Marriages change
The person you married will change over time. You will change over time. Hopefully you will change in the same direction or come to love the changes in the other person. Don’t let these changes take you by surprise.
40. Worry is worthless
Worry is useful only if it leads directly to a solution. But the very nature of worry implies that it doesn’t. You worry about “what if’s” that aren’t real, and the worry itself creates stress and physical symptoms that cause real reason for angst. Learn how to manage your worry thoughts.
41. Heal your wounds
Don’t allow pain from your past (or present) to linger and cause you suffering. Don’t stuff it down or pretend it doesn’t matter when it does. Seek support from a professional trained to help you heal and renew your emotional health.
42. Simple is better
A life full of complications, obligations, and an overwhelming schedule make life more difficult and stressful. A simpler life in all regards gives you more space for joy and engagement.
43. Do the work
If you want something in life, you must do the work to get it. There are rarely shortcuts. But truthfully the work is what affords the most sense of accomplishment.
44. It’s never too late
This is an excuse for not trying. Great things can be accomplished at any age.
45. Action beats angst
Action is the cure for worry, procrastination, indecision, anxiety, and frustration. Stop thinking and do something, and you will create momentum that leads to something valuable or at the least heals your turmoil.
46. Creation beats reaction
Be proactive in your life, designing exactly what you want rather than reacting to what life throws at you. Creation empowers you and expands your opportunities.
47. Release attachments
Don’t become too attached to outcomes or beliefs. Remain open to all possibilities and ideas. You will be surprised how much more there is to life when you don’t cling to your life experience.
48. Your words matter
The words you speak have power. Consider your words carefully. Use them for good rather than harm. Once they are out, you can’t take them back.
49. Make every day count
If you live to age ninety, how many days do you have left? It is a finite number, and one day you will reach the last one. Be conscious of the value of every single day.
50. Love is the answer
Love is why we are here. It is the force for good in this sometimes random and harsh world. Share it freely. Express is daily.
What are some of the life lessons you’ve learned over the years? How have they impacted you or the way you live? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.