As Oscar Wilde noted, "experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes."


Here, Harriet Griffey, author of I Want to Be Happy: How to Live a Happy Life shares 5 tips on how to learn from the lessons of the past, and even turn mistakes into something positive...

A wise person once said, a mistake is just something you did that yielded a result you didn’t want.

There is no judgement in this description of a mistake and the only error would be to make the same mistake twice. Indeed, we may even say to ourselves: "I won’t make that mistake again."

Sleeping woman

Mistakes are a learning opportunity rather than a statement of failure; and many lessons can be learnt in this way if we are open to them.

Read on to find out how to learn from past mistakes and live in the present...

Letting go of the past - photo by Llywelyn Nys

How to accept past mistakes and move on


Ask for feedback

This can take courage, but it can be a helpful way to see how what you did, didn’t work out for you. Sometimes what we do is so flooded by emotion that, in the words of a familiar cliché, it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees.

An objective, external point of view from someone you trust can be extremely helpful in taking a step towards change and greater happiness.


Make peace with your past

What has happened in the past can impact on the present.

If your experiences have been happy and good, this is positive, of course, but where there are unhappy memories or unfinished business, it’s good to make your peace with this aspect of your history in order to move on.


Travel light

Let go of what no longer serves you and travel light. Forgive those who have hurt you in the past and move on.

Declutter your life of the people and situations that no longer bring pleasure or happiness and clear out that precious space to allow for new possibilities and opportunities.

How to let go of the past

Write a journal

Writing a narrative, your version of events, about what happened and what you learnt from it can help you come to terms with the past, so keeping a daily journal can help the process.

Alternatively, if you feel you have become stuck and need some help in resolving how you feel, consider some short-term work with a therapist or counsellor, which will help to create the space to allow you to change your thinking about the past, so that you can feel happier in the present and when thinking about your future.


Let it go

If this is hard for you there are a number of things that you can do to gain a sense of closure. It may be that writing a letter to someone, even if you never send it, will help you make your peace with what has happened and let it go.

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It may be that making amends in some way, or saying a goodbye, or clearing out items that keep you connected to an unhappy time, will be an important step in letting go.

Don’t expect what you do to yield an overnight change, but do make letting go a priority as the end result – closure – will create the space for happier times once any preoccupation with unfinished business is relieved or has gone.

This extract comes from Harriet Griffey's I Want to Be Happy: How to Live a Happy Life (Hardie Grant, £7.99). Harriet is a London-based writer, whose other books include I want to Sleep (2015), I want to be Calm (2015), I want to be Organised (2016) and I want to be Confident (2017).


Photos by Allef Vinicius, Llywelyn Nys and Christelle Bourgeois on Unsplash