Happiness

10 Significant Life Lessons from the talented Audrey Hepburn

 Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

For beautiful eyes look for the good in others.
For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness. And for poise, walk with the knowledge
that you’re never alone.
— Audrey Hepburn
pinkline-2.png

Intelligent, graceful, beautiful - and wise.

These are just a few of the epithets that have been used to describe Audrey Hepburn, and for many she remains the quintessential Hollywood actress of the mid-20th century. One of only 12 actors, male or female, to win the coveted EGOT - Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

20 years after her death, she was voted the most beautiful actress in the world by Life magazine, and today she remains a shining cultural star.

Yet the most remarkable thing about Audrey, wasn't her status as a film or fashion icon. It wasn't the magical way she transformed a string of pearls and Little Black Dress - It was her humility of heart, tenacity, and compassion for the vulnerable.

Born in Belgium, her mother was a baroness and her father an aristocrat,  she grew up in the shadow of World War II.  She never forgot the help she received as a young child during during German Occupation, and in later life devoted herself to assisting children worldwide through UNICEF.

Here are 10 lessons we can learn from the life of Audrey Hepburn.

 
 
 

1. She had a quiet courage

Although both Audrey's parents were fascist sympathisers (though her mother later became disillusioned with the movement), Audrey and her half-brothers never shared their leanings. As a young girl growing up in war-torn Holland, she even used her talents as a fledging ballerina to raise money for the Dutch Resistance by dancing.

The rooms were blacked-out and the audiences remained eerily silent so as not to attract the attention of Nazis who were everywhere.

Occasionally, like some other children in the area, she carried money and secret messages for the Dutch Resistance. 

On one memorable occasion she was stopped by a German soldier as she was out after the nazi-enforced curfew. He forced her to remove her shoes. Thankfully, she later reported, that day she wasn't carrying any messages, but the day before she had secret literature - hidden in her shoes.

That desire to help others never left her.

 

2. She had the resilience to overcome early struggles

 Audrey Hepburn as a child

Audrey Hepburn as a child

Growing up in Europe in the 1930s and 40s, Audrey's life was not easy.

Her childhood in war-torn Arnhem in Holland, was made more difficult because her fluency in English made her a target for the German occupiers. She hid the fact she spoke English from all but immediate family. Throughout the war, she used a Dutch name too, Eeda van Heemstra, to avoid suspicion.

She saw her older half-brother forced from their home for his refusal to join the Nazi Youth Organisation. He spent the war in a concentration camp. 

Her other half-brother, who aided the Dutch Resistance, was forced into hiding for several years in order to avoid the same fate. It wasn't until some weeks after the war ended that Audrey discovered that mercifully they had both survived.

Audrey also witnessed innocent men being shot by Nazi soldiers in the street, and saw Jewish children being herded onto trains like cattle. She recalled she was a child, watching a child, and the horror of it gave her intermittent nightmares for the rest of her life.

No wonder she later said,

The most important thing is to enjoy your life - to be happy - is all that matters.”
 

3. the starvation she endured made her appreciate the simpler things in life

young-audrey-hepburn.jpg

Throughout the war, the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis.

Food and fuel were scarce, and the winter of 1944-5 was known as the Hunger Winter as a German blockade prevented food supplies reaching the area. As many as 22,000 people died.

Throughout that winter, Audrey recalled she existed on tulip bulbs ground down to make flour, endives and grass.

She later remembered how she saw women with their dead babies on the roadside, collapsed from starvation.

The experience left her with jaundice and anaemia, and near to death at times. For the rest of her life she suffered with a delicate stomach, and respiratory and metabolic issues. It also contributed to several miscarriages as her body never fully recovered from the ordeal it had endured.

Sadly, when people envied her waif-like figure and ethereal beauty, they did not realise that it was the result of severe hunger in her formative years. There were also rumours that she was anorexic. 

Perhaps because of this, compared to many of her Hollywood peers, she lived in relative simplicity. Once you had endured extreme starvation, she noted, "you never send a steak back because it's underdone..."

She later said, quite poignantly,

I came out of the war, thankful to be alive, aware that human relationships are the most important thing of all, far more than wealth, food, luxury, careers or anything you can mention.

 

4. She was able to forgive her father for walking out on the family

 Audrey Hepburn reunited with her father

Audrey Hepburn reunited with her father

When she was six years old, her father left the family home for good.

The story goes that he popped out for a packet of cigarettes and never came back. Audrey was heartbroken - and despite all her fame and achievements in later life,  she never got over it.

She saw him some years later on the eve of World War II. She was at school in England, and somehow her mother, who was in the Netherlands, tracked down her ex-husband and sent him a message asking him to place Audrey on a plane back to what she thought would be safety in the Netherlands.

Audrey's father duly complied, but they lost contact completely and she spent over twenty years assuming he had died. 

Of her father leaving, she later described it as, "a tragedy from which I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. I worshipped him and missed him terribly from the day he disappeared..." 

It was her first husband who helped her find him. He was living quietly in Ireland, having spent the war years interned on the Isle of Man for his fascist leanings.

Although they were never truly close again, Audrey supported him financially, and their relationship was cordial enough for her to regularly write him letters that began, "Dearest Daddy..."

 

5. during the war She found hope in something beyond herself

audreyherpburn-ballerina.png

One of the things that kept her spirits up through those dark days of World War II was her love of ballet and dance. Throughout the horrors of war, with the shadow of death at every turn, dancing became her raison d'etre.

"I love dancing," she explained, "because it can take you out of yourself..."

For Audrey, it was both a means of survival and self-expression.

She gave lessons to girls only a few years younger than herself in order to earn a little money, but when she performed herself she preferred to do so solo.

Eventually, starvation made her so weak that one day she collapsed in class. The kindly male ballet instructor saw her weakened state and shared his meagre supplies with her.

But the damage had been done. After the war, she resumed ballet lessons in London her body never recovered the strength necessary to become a prima ballerina.

Still it gave her that beautiful and much loved grace and poise.

"I couldn't express myself while conforming to a line of twelve girls. I didn't want to conform."

 

6. she was conscious of her own self-worth

audreyhepburn-redcardigan.jpg

Even as a young woman, trying to make her way in the acting industry, Audrey Hepburn knew her worth.

When she came to Paramount's attention, she was a young actress, establishing her name in London.

Paramount told her they were keen to fly her to America to audition for Roman Holiday, but they had a condition. The US actress, Katherine Hepburn, was already well-known and they didn't want their audiences to be confused.

Would she consider changing her name?

Audrey refused. She got the part anyway.

 

7. She took her profession seriously

audrey-hepburn-394261_640.jpg

Audrey won her first Oscar very quickly - for her portrayal as a royal princess in the 1953 film, Roman Holiday.

Yet despite this, she remained committed to a disciplined schedule of acting tuition in an attempt to perfect her craft. She was not one for after- parties or night clubs, preferring to spend time honing her skills.

This led to criticism from some journalists and fellow actors, who regarded this and her natural reticence as superior behaviour.

But Audrey explained it thus - she was still a young woman. She had a lot to learn. Her desire was not to be a celebrity but a great actress, and to do that she needed to work - and work hard.

 

8. She prioritised being a mother over her acting career

audrey-hepburn-children-800.jpg

At the height of her fame, when she, alongside Elizabeth Taylor were the highest paid actresses in the world, she walked away from Hollywood to focus on family life.

Perhaps due to the malnutrition in her youth, she suffered several miscarriages, and the most important thing for her was to be an available mother to the two sons she had, ten years apart.

Audrey was very close to her children, and wanted to live a quiet life as a doctor's wife to her second husband, and hands-on mother.

She loved to cook and eat big bowls of pasta for her sons and their friends - spaghetti al pomodoro was a favourite - and happily walked them to and from school.

After her death, her eldest son, Sean Hepburn-Ferrer, described her as his best friend and confidante.

 

9. She was a Philanthropist and humanitarian

 Audrey Hepburn on a UNICEF project in Bangladesh

Audrey Hepburn on a UNICEF project in Bangladesh

Audrey never forgot the sacrifices made by the Allied forces to help liberate her country. Immediately after the war she worked voluntarily as a nurse in a home for wounded Dutch soldiers.

That sense of gratitude never left her.

Her son, Sean Hepburn-Ferrer, recalled, "She was grateful to the people who liberated her. She never forgot the chocolates and the outstretched hands - the little acts of kindness to children like herself. Later in life, those memories inspired her to work for Unicef. She wanted to give something back to the world."

In the late 1980s, when her two sons were grown, she turned her attentions to humanitarian efforts. Recalling how the United Nations Children had brought much needed food and medical aid after the war, she approached UNICEF and asked to help in any way she could.

Before her untimely death at the age of 63, she travelled to over 20 countries including Turkey, Guatemala, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.

She saw firsthand the plight of innocent children whose lives had been blighted by war, famine and drought. She spent her final years drawing the attention of politicians and world leaders to the plight of these children.

As she said, "I think that, today, never has there been more suffering in more places all at once. At the same time, never has there been so much hope. We've had the greatest gift mankind could possibly give to children, which is "The Convention on the Rights of the Child..."

UNICEF noted that thanks to the Convention, the way children were treated changed. They were seen as human beings with their own needs and rights instead of as passive objects of charity and care.
 

I can testify to what UNICEF
means to children, because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II...”
 

10. She was still very human

audrey-hepburn-wallpaper-021.jpg

Of course, Audrey had her short-comings and detractors. What person doesn't?

Humphrey Bogart, who she starred with in Sabrina criticised her acting ability, complaining it took 30 takes for her to shoot one scene.

The writer, Truman Capote, who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's, was hugely disappointed that she was cast in the role of Holly Golightly over the more obvious allure of Marilyn Monroe.

In her early Hollywood days she had an affair with her co-star William Holden and was keen to marry him, even though he already had a wife and three children.

And she could never give up her life-long addiction to cigarettes, started as a teenager at the end of the war when the English liberators of Arnhem gave her their tobacco...

Yet these things did not define her.

What shines through are her kind heart, intelligence and compassionate nature.

With grit and resilience she overcame the tragedy of war and abandonment by her father.

She used her talent and beauty to touch the hearts of millions of movie goers world-wide, and her wisdom and star quality to help transform the suffering of hundreds of thousands of children in some of the poorest, most neglected parts of the world.

Audrey Hepburn was truly a global icon.

 

AudreyHepburn.png
 

25 Small Things that can Reduce Stress, Increase Joy and Make You Feel More Content Overall

pexels-photo-545034.jpeg
 

What are the things in life that make you smile?

According to a survey of 2000 people it's actually the most simple of things - with sleeping in freshly laundered bedsheets topping the list. 

The key is to do the simple things often - and be attentive at the same time. If we pay attention, it's actually a great way of boosting our mood and our levels of resilience too.

Rebecca, aged 25, says, "I was seeing a psychologist for a while to help me cope with early onset arthritis. I'd been forced to place my graduate studies on hold and my boyfriend and I had just split up so I felt very low.

"One of the things the psychologist recommended was to do five small things a day that gave me joy. At first it was a struggle. I couldn't even think of five things. And when I did, I asked myself, how could something as simple as having a warm bath bring me joy? But after some time I learned to focus on what I was doing in that very moment - being mindful. I really got into it, and it became a way of helping me cope with the stresses I was facing."

The five small things that Rebecca did were the type of simple activities we carry out every day. But by consciously placing her attention on what she was doing, they created anchor, or rest points, during the day, turning them into small acts of appreciation and self-care. 

We might not be able to control the effect of illness or the breakdown of a relationship, but taking small actions in other areas of our life can impact our situation indirectly. It can enhance our belief that we can cope in specific situations, and can help us strengthen our resources to more successfully manage the area that is challenging us. 

So, listed below are 25 small things you can do, which the average person says makes them feel so much better.

 
pexels-photo-708440.jpeg
  1. Listening to birdsong from my bedroom window
  2. Make a greeting card
  3. Being around children - even if just for a few minutes - and hearing their laughter
  4. Doing gentle exercise which releases happy endorphins
  5. Escaping to the seaside for the day, breathing in fresh sea air and eating freshly caught fish n chips on the beach
  6. Relax and enjoy a cup of your favourite herbal tea
  7. Getting into bed to clean and freshly ironed bedsheets
  8. Laughing at a funny memory
  9. Cook a new recipe
  10. Dance to lively music
  11. Catching up with a friend you haven't seen in a while
  12. Playing your favourite board game from childhood
  13. Sing your favourite song
  14. Complete a word puzzle or crossword
  15. Adult colouring in
  16. Reading a chapter from my favourite book
  17. Having coffee in a new cafe
  18. Taking a bath in the evening by candlelight with classical music on in the background
  19. Looking at funny videos on WhatsApp or Youtube
  20. Doodling or drawing
  21. Watching nature or history documentaries
  22. Having a pampering evening with a face mask
  23. Wandering round an antique market
  24. Trying out a new cuisine
  25. Sitting in a park under a tree, just relaxing and listening to nature
 

So what simple things make you happy? Write in and let me know!

 

Day 1.png
 

Why not get a head-start with developing your happiness habit? Download this 7 day workbook now!

 
 

favourite blog posts

8 helpful tips you can use to Increase your happiness when you live with chronic pain

armchair-attractive-beautiful-761882.jpg

You want to be happier.

You want to experience that sense of contentment and joy - the feeling that all is right in your world. But one of the hardest things about living with long-term pain, is accepting the fact that things aren't so right in your world after all. And trying to find happiness, trying to maintain a sense of optimism in the face of such difficult circumstances, brings with it its own set of challenges.

When you live with chronic pain, there are so many issues that have to be managed throughout the day. Even seemingly minor things - such as deciding to cook a meal from scratch if your energy is low - can have big repercussions for hours or days down the line.

Instead of thriving and enjoying, life is often spent in survival mode. The focus switches to getting through the next 24 hours as you struggle to cope with pain that can overwhelm and isolate you, or threatens to drag you into an emotional void from which it can be hard to escape. 

And of course there's disappointment too.

barbecue-beer-cutlery-2139.jpg

Take last week, for example.

I'd been looking forward to an invitation to a barbecue from a new friend. I had anticipated it for several days - only to realise that I simply couldn't make it.

So I was forced to make that call - the call I've made so many times before. It's the one that begins,  "I'm so sorry I can't be there.... I really wanted to go..." 

Instead of attending the weekend celebration - sitting outside, listening to music and laughing with others as we

enjoyed the smoky taste of food grilled over charcoal - I stayed in, and wondered how long it would be before the pain lowered to a more manageable level.

In such times it can be hard not to feel disappointed.

So is it really possible to find happiness in the midst of such challenges? Or is there something more meaningful we can search for that can give us a joy and fulfilment instead?

 

1. Manage Our Expectations

 Photo: Tess Nebula, Unsplash

Photo: Tess Nebula, Unsplash

It took me years to learn this lesson - and in many ways it's an ongoing process. But I realised when I had lowered my expectations of myself and others, I tended to be less stressed and less disappointed.

I'm a perfectionist by nature, so this has been incredibly hard for me.

But I am learning that when I let go of my expectations, especially big ones, I am able to feel so much happier.

This has helped me:

  • be less critical of myself when my body simply can't manage to do all the things I want it to do

  • realise that in life other people will let us down and disappear at the time we could do with them most. All we can do is love them and let them go, while we treasure and appreciate those who remain.

So now I tell myself, if I can do something on a given day, no matter how small - that's wonderful. I will savour and treasure the memories of that day to keep me positive when times are harder.

And appreciate those who remain constant when times get tough.

 

2. Get Enough Sleep

adult-attractive-beautiful-371109.jpg

There are some basics that need to be in place if we want to become happier. And one of the main things is to have a well-rested brain -  but I know from firsthand experience that when pain levels are so severe it can be impossible to sleep at all.

If you're not working, you might also find that although you're physically tired, your brain hasn't been active enough during the day to switch off properly at night.

Or you might find you have so much to do that a combination of poor health, work, child care commitments and stress can make you so over-tired, that you cannot sleep at all as your body is too exhausted. I've found that taking magnesium or using magnesium spray on your legs can help relax muscles to give some pain relief, and it also promotes sleep too.

I've also noticed that one of the ways to promote better sleep is to get outside for some fresh air during the day, even if you can't get further than your front door.

But if you can reach the park, surrounded by grass or trees, or somewhere where you can really take in deep breaths of air, it has a relaxing effect on the body later on during the day.

Using a good quality sleep mask and blackout curtain liners can greatly aid my ability to switch off. And some people love lavender essential oil too, though personally it makes me too drowsy the next day. 

 

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

 Photo: Lisa Fotios, Pexel

Photo: Lisa Fotios, Pexel

Nowadays, the average person eats 500 calories more per week than they did during the 1970s - and most of these calories come from junk food or ready meals.

One of the best things you can do for your body is to make the decision to follow a healthy diet. 

It should include looking at what foods might trigger your pain, and seeing if eliminating them from your diet makes a difference, and also making the effort to eat clean food - that is, eating food in an unprocessed state as possible.

If you find this daunting, then the simplest way to have a healthier diet was to drink a green smoothie on most mornings. It's such an easy thing to have for breakfast. I invested in a smoothie maker a couple of years ago - and I must say, it's absolutely fantastic!

I'll be honest.

I don't particularly love greens or vegetables - but by adding kale, spinach and even broccoli to my morning smoothies, and then adding aromatic herbs and spices which I love,  I feel I've already got my day off to the best possible start - and that simple act makes me feel much more positive about the day ahead.

fibromyalgia-websitead.png
 

4. gentle movement

 Photo Jacob Postuma, Unsplash

Photo Jacob Postuma, Unsplash

My doctor once advised me to join the local gym for a very gentle exercise class.  I dutifully went along for the induction and one yoga session (with a very stressy teacher!) - and that was the end of my gym experience!

If you're not a gym person - the easiest thing is to find simple ways to incorporate more activity into your daily life. 

For beginners, I especially like gentle yoga dvds such as Fiona Delf which is aimed at people who have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue.

Researchers have shown that for those who have pain conditions, Lifestyle Physical Activity is a great way of. So put on your walking shoes and take a short stroll round your neighbourhood. Taking in the local scenery can work wonders for your mood. 

Even if you have to use a walking frame or crutches, it's better to go out there, inhale the fresh air, and walk slowly to build up your functional ability, than stay indoors.

And if the weather isn't too great, gentle walking on a treadmill is also a good way to build up stamina. You can even find a scenic walking video on youtube, and pretend you're taking an afternoon stroll round Paris or Milan...


free-workbook.png
 

5. Accept that your mood might be low at times

There are some people who are truly blessed to feel happy all the time. No matter what happens to them, they are able to face life with a Pollyanna response to their trials, and carry on regardless, automatically seeing the bright side of every situation.

But most of us aren't like that, and with good reason. 

We are actually hardwired to feel experience more negative feelings than positive ones.  It was the way our ancestors protected themselves from dangerous situations in the past.

Certain medication can also have an effect on our mood, making us feel lower than we normally would. I've definitely found that some pain medications can make my mood worse.

Positive thinking often encourages us to ignore these negative emotions - and instead focus on the more joyful feelings of cheerfulness, serenity and hope. 

Positive psychology, however, recognises that negative emotions are part of the complexity of human life, and can actually be used as signposts that focus our attention on a specific matter.

For instance:

  • feeling low can be a sign that we need to withdraw for awhile and allow ourselves time to heal.

  • guilt can help prevent us from repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

  • fear can be the catalyst that tells us to flee a situation in order to protect ourselves.

Negative emotions can also spur us on to greater achievements.

I remember an old university friend who didn't do much coursework from one month to the next, but when she and her boyfriend split up, she fuelled the hurt she felt into writing truly powerful essays. 

We don't want to become trapped in our negative emotions though - we need to recognise and acknowledge them, then move on. So if you feel that you're stagnating in these emotions, then get all the help you need from a medical professional or doctor.

 

6.find something that gives your life a sense of purpose...

rawpixel-442650-unsplash.jpg

Does your life have meaning? Is there a goal or intention that absorbs your mind and helps you transcend whatever situation you find yourself in?

When your daily existence is largely about managing pain or health levels, it can be easy to forget the joy that can come from having a purpose in your life beyond yourself. Your life has shrunk. Places have become inaccessible, old friends disappear, and you might find yourself becoming less sociable as you try to manage the simplest of every day tasks.

It's easy to see how all of this can sap your joy.

Yet despite all this, it is vital to find something that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. 

Before I was born, my mother experienced some ongoing health issues. It wasn't easy for her, managing her health and a houseful of young children, but one of the things she loved to do was sing. So she gained a sense of purpose by continuing to sing - both at home and in her local church.

Years later, I was touched when my mother and I were on holiday, and an elderly lady came and clasped my mother to her bosom. She told me that she could still remember the songs my mother had sung decades earlier. She said that in those years she was struggling with some issues of her own, and whenever she heard my mother sing it helped encourage to deal with whatever she was facing.

So take a few moments to think back to what you love or used to love to do. How can you find a way of adding it to your life now?

 

7. practise gratitude

 Photo by  Ana Tavares  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash

Previously, scientists thought that our capacity to change our brain and way of thinking was fixed by the age of 30 - after that it was all downhill.

But the good news is - it seems they got it WRONG! 

Researchers have now discovered that happiness is a state of mind which can be brought about and maintained through good habits. They realise that, just like the human body, the brain can be exercised - and by exercising it in the right way we can transform and rewire our way of thinking. 

Perhaps the simplest habit to adopt, and one that can have profound benefits, is practising gratitude. In this way, we're deliberately making the choice to look for and appreciate the good, even in the smallest of things.

As a child, I was brought up to say prayers every morning and night - expressing thanks to God, and expressing appreciation and love for the kindness of others.

It takes one month of practising a good habit for it to sink in you brain. Why not get a head start with our activity happiness planner:

 

8. Change Your Vocabulary

alphabet-close-up-game-695571.jpg

It's so easy to get into a negative mindset - especially if your daily life is beset with pain. After all, it's frustrating when you find you can no longer do things for yourself in a way that you could previously.

In these situations, it's very easy for us to get into the habit of complaining about our lot in life. Do you find yourself saying: 

  • I'm fed-up with x

  • I'm annoyed about y

  • I couldn't go to z and it's made me feel really low

In a way, it's perfectly natural. If you're body is in survival mode...

Yet while it's important to acknowledge our negative emotions, it's vital that we don't get stuck in a rut of prolonged venting about any and everything.

If you've been in pain for years, it's hard to imagine that things could ever be any different, but we need to see our feelings of anger and annoyance as a temporary response to our situation.

I'm not going to say we don't have a right to feel, fed up, or annoyed or angry. But perhaps we could change how we express it:

  • I'm fed up about x today

  • I'm annoyed about y but later on I can still get to watch my favourite comedy that I've been looking forward to all week

  • I couldn't go to z and it's made me feel really low but I'm learning to listen to my body, and hopefully in a couple of days I'll be able to go to x instead...

These are just a few of the steps we can take to add more positive emotions to our lives. If you'd like to receive a free 28 day Happiness Activity Planner then click on the link below and we'll send you one right away.

8 useful tips to boost happiness when you live with chronic pain.png