Words of wisdom: the best advice for the year from hell | World news


Bad times don’t last. Pick your battles. Wake up at the same time each day. Don’t take things personally. Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom.

In this year of years, when we have learned so much about our limitations, but also our strengths, what are the eternal wisdoms that still ring true?

The Upside asked Guardian readers for their favourite pieces of advice for times of trouble. Our mailbox is still bulging.

On crisis


Endure, and save yourselves for happier times.

Jutka Fischer, Budapest, Hungary (citing Virgil’s The Aeneid)


The best bit of advice I ever had was from my psychotherapist: “It’s OK to feel melancholy at times.” Given the current crisis, it seems very apposite!

Jenny Cathcart, Yorkshire, UK


Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass – it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Pamela Saunders, Suffolk, UK



Don’t wait for the storm to pass … Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain. Photograph: Alamy


Great advice about patience when on a plane in the US that was delayed in taking off. The captain said: “I always say that I’d rather be down here wishing I was up there than up there wishing I was down here.” Never forgotten it!

Emlyn Williams, Milton Keynes, UK


Those friends thou hast,
and their adoption tried,
grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.

This was given to me by my grandfather in his beautiful calligraphy when I was about 10. It has guided me ever since.

Andrea McIntyre, Canada, citing Shakespeare’s Hamlet

On happiness


For happiness, three things are required. Something to do. Someone to love who loves you back. Something to look forward to.

Thomas Howard, Bristol, UK


Success doesn’t lead to happiness; happiness leads to success, so choose what makes you happy. We are programmed for success, but success usually means that the goalposts get moved so then success has been redefined, and happiness is still out of reach.

Iain Dodds, Morayshire, UK


My advice to myself when I feel overly frustrated is: “Lower your expectations! Be happy with what you’ve got cuz it’s probably good enough. It could be worse!” And guess what, it works every time. Whether I was getting aggravated about how little progress I had made on a project, lack of help with household chores, some imperfection in the garden, repairmen not showing up, whining parents at school who nevertheless refuse to lift a hand, or whatever, when I tell myself to lower my standards and be happy with the progress that’s been made so far, I have always felt much better.

Felicia Madrigal, Mexico


I think one advice I remind myself of (after a close encounter with near fatal disease) is this: use your best dress, your best porcelain, drink your best wine; don’t save it for later – later can be too late – if it makes you happy, use it now.

Valeria Richter, Denmark



‘Use your best dress, your best porcelain.’ Photograph: Alamy

On perfectionism


Written in the margin of our family sauce recipe by my Sicilian grandmother, Carmela Lombardi: “Don’t be stingy, but don’t overdo.” She meant it about parmesan, but I try to apply it to everything in life.

Deena Lombardi Tunmer, Brighton, UK


Swap “should” for “could”.

Lyndsey Carter, Devon, UK, quoting from The Mindful Cook


“Sometimes it’s not necessary that things are perfect to 100%. Sometimes it’s enough if they are perfect to 70 or 80%.” This was advice given to me at 26 by the best manager I’ve ever had, empowering me while teaching some work-life balance at the same time.

Begoña Diaz, Madrid, Spain


It isn’t about what you have or don’t have; it’s about what you see and how you see it.

Frank Caldwell, Texas, US

On control


I am a semi-retired family physician. When I was first in practice I used to agonise over patients who were harming themselves by their choices, despite my earnest and repeated advice. I received some advice myself which I took to heart: “Do not take responsibility where you have no authority. It is a recipe for insanity.” I have passed that on to numerous people who have struggled with guilt over situations where they have no control.

Charlene Lockner, Ontario, Canada


Twenty years ago, when someone in my yoga class complained of not having time to practise during the week, the teacher replied sharply. “Of course you don’t have time. You have to make it!”

Since then, I have never, ever said I don’t have time.

Kay Priestly, Lombardy, Italy



‘You have to make time.’ Photograph: Alexander Shcherbak/Tass


Focus your time on the things you can change and not the things you can’t.

Simon Mann, Singapore


If you don’t have the answer, ask a question.

Kirstin Bellhouse, New York, US


Never be afraid to say you don’t know.

Lynn Jasechko, Toronto, Canada


Wake up at the same time every day. I’ve had meandering sleep patterns my entire adult life, and I thought that their inevitable slide towards very late sleep times (2am or later) was just part of my physiology, and not easily modified. However, earlier this year I read a book by a sleep doctor with this piece of advice. It’s changed everything. I have regular sleeping hours (12am – 8am) and I don’t feel tired. It’s not hard to follow, and it just works.

Fiona Neilson, Melbourne, Australia



‘Wake up at the same time every day.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

On self esteem


I can never really know what others think of me, and anyway it’s none of my business.

Donald Pickering, Emilia-Romagna, Italy


You wouldn’t worry what people think of you if you knew how seldom they do.

Jan Masson, Milton Keynes, UK


In the special needs department at my daughter’s school (many years ago) a poster was just inside the entrance.

It said: “It’s nice to be important. But it’s much more important to be nice.”

Lynne Morgan, Somerset, UK

On failure


I was upset about something I’d done which had turned out disastrously. My dear dad said to me: “Nobody ever learned anything by getting it right.” I tell that to people a lot.

Lucy Connelly, Dorset, UK


I base my go-for-it attitude on the acronym: FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.

Nick Campbell, London, UK


My cousin Elizabeth was painting a big, new house, to a deadline. When she was showing the area I was to do, her advice was: don’t do too good a job.

I’ve given that advice to others, over the years.

Nancy Allan, Saskatoon, Canada



‘Don’t do too good a job.’ Photograph: Alistair Berg/Getty Images

And finally, some whimsical responses


My boss once gave me this very useful advice in the sphere of work: “Sometimes it is better to apologise than to ask for permission.”

Sepideh Javaherian, Belgium


My dad told me to never buy cheap paint. I wish I’d listened to him rather than finding out for myself. He also said “nobody likes a smart arse” and “don’t be a dick”.

Again, I wish I’d listened rather than finding out for myself.

Nick Strasburg, London, UK


From mother to daughter: never be financially dependent on a man

Fiona Cameron, New South Wales, Australia


Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom. This was a piece of advice given to me at university by a friend when I was feeling down about loads of things going on at the time. The year was 1988. I always thought it a funny piece of advice but utterly transformative. I took it to mean there is so much more to life than worrying about the minutiae of things. It has served me well by keeping me grounded.

Bola Rotibi, Sussex, UK


Best advice I have heard would have to be “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

Tanika Klan, New South Wales, Australia

Give us your best advice in the comment thread.





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