Since I became a mother, my birthdays have been pretty tame affairs. They now provide an opportunity for reflection rather than mindless partying. My thirties have been a steep learning curve, in which I’ve left behind the insecurity and irresponsibility of my twenties and learned many life truths and lessons. This knowledge has helped me become a happier and kinder person, who worries less and appreciates more.
It was my birthday last week. I reached the grand old age of 36.
Below are the edited highlights of everything I’ve learned in the past 36 years. I wrote this for my kids, in the hope it won’t take them quite as many years and so much work to discover these universally recognised wisdoms for themselves.
1. Whatever You Judge, You Will Be Doomed To Experience
Pretty much everything I have ever passed judgement on has come back to bite me in the form of similar experiences. I have been served up some pretty harsh experiences and many of them necessitated me undertaking actions I had previously judged in other people.
I’ve learned never to judge anyone until I’ve walked in their shoes. Chances are if you do judge someone, you will be forced to walk in their shoes at some point in the future.
2. Stop Moaning
Moaning and complaining is boring. No one is interested. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong, think and talk about the blessings you receive every day. Appreciate more and complain less. I guarantee you will be happier for it.
3. Scrap High Expectations
High expectations usually lead to disappointment. This especially applies to high expectations of other people. Don’t apply your own standards to others. We all differ in our beliefs, behaviour and self-expectations. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised than continually let down.
4. Encourage Instead Of Critise
Have you ever noticed how some people criticise everything and everyone? I’ve learned this is more a reflection on how they feel about themselves than the people they continually slate. If you find yourself exhibiting this kind of behaviour, it’s time to work on how you feel about yourself.
The world needs more encouragers and fewer critics. So (as my mum always told me), if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
5. Don’t Be Afraid Of Failure
My hatred of failure has seen me abandon hobbies, projects and interests I was passionate about. I gave up on things I loved because failure stung so hard. And my fear of failure has sometimes prevented me from even trying.
Then I realised that failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can embrace failure and learn from it. Sometimes failing has been the best possible outcome for me, because it has either taught me to persevere or forced me to follow a new path.
Failure is not the opposite of success. The opposite of success is never trying in the first place.
6. Detach From Outcome
This point follows on nicely from number 5. Don’t be so hooked up on the outcome that you forget to enjoy the journey. Whether you fail or succeed – who cares as long as you enjoyed the ride?
It’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.
7. Happiness Cannot Be Bought Or Acquired
You may think money, status and possessions can bring you happiness. You’re wrong.
After 75 years of data collection, the world’s longest human study on happiness found it is those with the strongest relationships who are happiest. Read more on this here.
Look around you. There are plenty of rich and famous people who are desperately unhappy. That just about says it all.
8. Don’t Eat Junk
Treat your body with kindness. Eating lots of sugary, fatty junk will just make you feel like crap.
If you want to feel good and be full of energy and positivity, make sure you fuel your body sensibly.
9. Be Kind
Be kind to everyone you meet, even if they’re not kind to you. You probably have no idea what they’re going through.
10. Wake Up Early
You’ll be more productive and accomplish more if you set the alarm clock an hour earlier than you need to.
11. Know When To Stop
It’s easy to burn yourself out when studying, working and parenting. Learn to recognise when you need to recharge. Don’t feel guilty about taking time out. You’re not a machine.
12. Know Yourself
This is probably the most important thing I’ve ever learned. It may sound silly, but I spent so much of my life pretending to be the person I thought others wanted me to be, I never bothered to get to know the person I really am.
If you have a best friend or partner, chances are you’ve taken the time to get to know them pretty well. Make sure you do yourself the same service.
Learn your likes and dislikes. Recognise what inspires and moves you. Understand what causes you to feel depleted and miserable. Then you can move onto the next point.
13. Be Yourself
Just be yourself. You are your truth. You can’t hide from it, it will out eventually. You’ll be much happier when you stop living your life for other people and start being yourself.
Don’t pretend to be someone else. It’s exhausting. Once you master this, you can work on the next step.
14. Love Yourself
I can’t stress how important this is. I’ve spent a long time being my own worst enemy. I was my harshest critic and the author of my own unhappiness.
Think of yourself as your best friend. Only talk to yourself in the way you would talk to someone you love. You deserve to be loved and, above all, you deserve to receive unconditional love from yourself.
15. Don’t People Please
Acting in a certain way because you think it’ll make others like you is a dangerous business. You’ll end up living a life you don’t recognise and didn’t want. And others will eventually see you as a fraud anyway.
Your opinions, actions and words should be your own. It’s impossible to please everybody so don’t even try. Far better to please yourself.
16. You Are Worthy
I don’t care who you are and what you have or haven’t done. You are worthy. We all are.
17. We Are More Similar Than We Are Different
Human beings have many differences for example in colour, culture, language and beliefs. But underneath it all we are all the same. We all have one heart. We all have hopes, dreams, fears and people we love.
We are more similar than we are different. Always remember that.
18. Forgive Yourself
We all make mistakes. Learn from them and move on. There’s no point beating yourself up with a big stick for years. It won’t change anything.
19. Work Hard
Nothing worth having is ever easy. This includes marriage and kids. You have work at it.
Make space in your life to create stuff. Be it writing, drawing, cooking or crocheting – do something just for fun. Unleash your creative juices for no other reason than it makes you feel good.
21. Don’t Be Scared Of Change
Don’t stand still just because it’s safer than taking a leap into the unknown. I’ve known many people who object to change for no other reason than it’s different.
It’s better to keep moving.
22. Love Your Body
I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time yo-yo dieting, depriving myself, binging and generally hating my body. I’ve only recently learnt to accept my body for the way it’s built and stop coveting a different shape, weight and form.
Our bodies are amazing. They do so much for us. The least we can do is love them and treat them well.
23. They’re Not Thinking About You
This revelation was probably one of the most important of my life. For someone who spent far too much energy obsessing over what others think of me, it was a colossal relief to realise that everyone else is doing the same.
We all spend most of our energy thinking about ourselves. Why waste your time worrying about what others think of you when they’re not thinking about you anyway?
24. Be Grateful
Learning to practise gratitude has completely transformed my life for the better. By continually appreciating and saying thank you for all the blessings in my life, I have become a happier person who worries less.
Here are some simple, daily gratitude practises which have improved my life.
25. Don’t Gossip
This one can be hard! But resist temptation and steer clear of gossiping. It’s a horrible habit. Talking behind someone’s back says more about you than it does about them.
Life will give you many reasons to be suspicious, bitter and sceptical. People will hurt you, double-cross you and take you for a ride. You will be betrayed and injured more than once.
Never forget that most people are good. Don’t let bad experiences prevent you from trusting and embracing those around you.
27. Drink Water
I only started drinking water last year. I’m ashamed to say, I never liked it much. Fizzy drinks and squashes were all the hydration I gave my body.
Since I started drinking a few pints of water every day, I have more energy, my skin is clearer and I no longer mistake thirst for hunger.
28. You Are What You Think
Your thoughts don’t just happen to you. You can actually control them. In fact, you need to learn to control them. There are many ways you can do this – just Google it!
29. Don’t Watch TV
It really is a waste of life. There are so many other things you could be doing instead.
30. Keep Learning
When you leave school, don’t let it be the end of your education. Follow your curiosities and keep learning. Knowledge is power.
31. Don’t Hold Grudges
Remaining bitter and angry for years, harms no-one but yourself. Try to forgive and move on. Otherwise you do yourself a great disservice.
32. You’re Not Always Right
We all have different opinions and beliefs. Learn to embrace the views of others and value them as much as you value your own.
33. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others, Be Your Own Yardstick
As Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ When we compare our lives to the lives of others, we will never find fulfillment because we’re not giving ourselves a realistic goal. Concentrate on your own journey – keep looking forward instead of sideways.
34. You Can Learn How To Be Happy
In the same way you learn a language or a maths equation, you can also learn how to be happy. Work at it in the same way you work for your career or your degree.
All human beings have the same goal – happiness. It doesn’t’ happen by fluke, you need to work at it.
35. Social Media Is Not Reality
Steve Furtick said, ‘The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.’ Facebook and its social cousins are the highlight reels of the 21st century. People will post freely about their triumphs and successes but you rarely hear about their failures, struggles and disappointments.
If you have to use social media, always keep this in mind. It’s not real, it’s a reel.
36 Don’t Tell Lies
Coming from someone who has told their fair share of porkies in the past, trust me, it’s just not worth it. Truth is everything.