The best advice you'll ever get

In a year that has left us all looking for guidance, comfort and advice, Ali Roff Farrar has collated timeless words of wisdom from some of the most insightful and inspirational books ever written, so you don’t have to.

When times of ambiguity, insecurity and desolation arrive at our doorsteps, we often find ourselves searching (sometimes wildly) for words of wisdom and comfort to help us navigate through the challenging period that lies ahead. Sometimes, these wise words gently and subtly guide us, like a friend by our side, while other times, a single aphorism will hit us like a clap of thunder, altering how we see a situation forever. And there is no better place to find these nuggets of wisdom than the bound pages of a book. Here is a compilation of the most erudite and sage advice you might ever read . . . at a time you may need it most.

At a crossroads

'In the search for your destiny, you will often find yourself obliged to change direction', quotes Paulo Coelho in his book Journey: A Journal of Self Discovery. We so often resist change, but whether we choose it or it’s forced upon us, change can be as exciting and transformative as it is uncomfortable and unsettling.

Journey is Paulo’s first ever guided journal, and in it, he shares: ‘Through the act of writing, you will come into contact with your unknown universe.’ He prompts us to ask ourselves thought-provoking questions and answer through the written word: 

When have you been forced to change direction in order to achieve a goal? Reflect on how you made this decision. Are there any areas of your life now that require a change of direction?

And when we are faced with change, in the words of Father Brown, as quoted by Danielle Steel in Expect a Miracle,Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the Ark, professionals built the Titanic.’

For loneliness

Companionship is one of the greatest gifts on earth, as James Boswell so wholesomely puts it: ‘The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef’. But, in a year that we have all been separated from the people we love and confronted with our own company, it’s important to remember that being alone does not always mean to feel lonely . . . 

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers.
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (as quoted in The Art of Solitude)

For love and loss

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a 20th-century classic. A collection of twenty-six poetic essays, its lessons, words of comfort and simple truths still resonate in 2020 as deeply as they did when it was first published in 1923. Wisdom is given as a departing gift as a prophet sets off on a voyage, and his advice on love is particularly poignant.

when his [love’s] wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you… For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet acknowledges that love is not always loving; it can also hurt us. We gain so much, but we can also lose, too. Here, we are reminded that we can’t ride the highs without the lows:

If in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure. Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

In essence, through love we may lose, but life will be richer for it all.  And how should we love? 

Let there be spaces in your togetherness. . . Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

In times of stress

This year has certainly thrown its fair share of stressful situations our way, and with them came new ways to put pressure on ourselves. From feeling as though we should be spending lockdown days being productive, learning languages or mastering sourdough, to balancing new work routines with family life, an enormous amount of our perceived stress is created from an innate desire to achieve perfection. But how much stress and suffering would we lift from our shoulders if we stopped striving for perfection, and simply aimed to be ‘good enough’? After a breakdown led her to drive to A&E announcing she wanted to commit suicide, this is the question Eleanor Ross asks in her book, Good Enough. Her advice is simple, yet soothing: 

We are not extraordinary. And we need to let these impossible demands on ourselves go . . . We are imperfect specimens striving to be perfect, and I think life could be better, or at least more fun if we just admitted that we have no idea what we’re doing. We are amazing, able people, but would it hurt to accept that we don’t have to push ourselves to breaking point to prove ourselves? To accept that we are great, marvellous, interesting people without having to hike to Antarctica or get 10,000 likes on an Instagram post?
Good Enough, by Eleanor Ross

On the secret to true happiness

In Confucius from the Heart by Yu Dan, we’re told ‘Confucius can teach us the secret of happiness, which is how to find the peace within us’. Confucius explains:

. . . a person must not only accept poverty peaceably, and not go crawling and begging for favours, but they must also be possessed of a calm, clear inner happiness, the kind of happiness that cannot be taken away by a life of poverty. Neither will power and riches make such a person haughty or self indulgent: they will still be refined and courteous, with a cheerful, contented mind. Such a person can both avoid being led astray by a life of wealth and plenty, and can keep their self-respect and inner happiness.

Essentially, true happiness is found in the folds of our inner peace, not in wealth. Equally, true happiness is not affected by a lack of it either.

In challenging and painful times

Pain, whether physical or emotional, is a difficult cross to bear; we push it away, ignore it, rage against it, yet no matter how hard we try to distance ourselves from it, our efforts simply cause us more suffering. When we need to dig deep, this elusive piece of advice from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet provides a fresh idea: 

. . . could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

His meaning? If we accept that painful situations exist in the same world as the joyful, we see that they are all equal as part of the miracle of life. And if we can accept the presence of them as they ebb and flow in and out of our lives, we will find more peace. But when those challenging times do arrive, a little faith with a pinch of positive perspective goes a long way, as this quote by Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ in Expect a Miracle illuminates: 

Life faces you with courageous challenges at every step of the way. You are on the path, exactly where you are meant to be right now . . . and from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, of love.
Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ

Other notable nuggets of wisdom:

On self-love:

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
'Wild Geese', by Mary Oliver

On hope:

If we can learn to see disappointment, criticism, even suffering, as a chance to learn and grow rather than as devastating and defeating, it will give us a much better chance of remaining hopeful.
How to be Hopeful, by Bernadette Russell

On feeling connected:

Connecting with nature is part of our DNA. We are programmed to be part of the natural world. We need to be surrounded and immersed in it to flourish… Make time to go outside, look up and out at the horizon. And breathe.
The Wild Journal, by Willow Crossley

If you're looking for more words of wisdom, these books are sure to provide a little guidance and comfort, and you can find more just like them in our edit of the best self-care books.


by Paulo Coelho

This is a beautifully designed guided journal from one of the world’s bestselling authors. Paulo Coelho encourages you to explore mind and soul with thought-provoking questions and inspiring quotes from his most popular works.

Expect a Miracle

by Danielle Steel

Bestselling author Danielle Steel began collecting quotations that had a special meaning to her when she was just a young girl. In Expect a Miracle she has collected some of her favourites – words to comfort, move and inspire you.

Why Friendship Matters

by Michèle Mendelssohn

This beautiful Macmillan Collector’s Library book is an inspiring collection filled with writing which celebrates and explores all aspects of friendship, from writers including Michel de Montaigne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Jane Austen.

The Art of Solitude

by Zachary Seager

This stunning Macmillan Collector’s library book contains poetry, essays, autobiographical pieces and short stories which show some of the myriad ways in which people throughout history have understood their experiences of solitary life, or have counselled others to benefit from solitude. These diverse works from authors such as Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickinson, can teach us how to think in freedom, how to enjoy a profound inner life and how best to cope with the fact that we live, as we dream – alone.

The Prophet

by Kahlil Gibran

The twenty-six poetic essays by Kahlil Gibran collected in this beautiful edition of The Prophet tell the story of the prophet Al-Mustafa and his conversations with various acquaintances as he returns home after a long absence. Thought-provoking and comforting, the book touches on issues of love, friendship, religion and freedom.

Confucius From the Heart

by Yu Dan

In this stunningly packaged collection of Confucius’s writings, Yu Dan argues that the philosopher’s sayings are simple truths that are just as applicable in our modern world, helping us to lead better, happier and calmer lives.

Poems to Save the World With

by Chris Riddell

This charming anthology is full of poems to ignite your inner activist and provide comfort and inspiration, all chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell.

The Wild Journal

by Willow Crossley

Willow Crossley’s beautifully illustrated guide celebrates the potential of nature to mend, heal and transform our mood. Full of creative, practical projects, simple habits, small seasonal changes and therapeutic reflections, the book can help counteract the unpredictability and chaos of everyday life.

In this episode of Book Break, Emma shares even more words of wisdom from the best books to turn to for advice.