20 Life Lessons From Disney to Remember as Adults

Many times I’ve heard Disney fairy-tale films blamed for misconceptions of the adult world and social trends. Although it can be funny to say, it isn’t all true. Actually, I’ve found that many of the Disney “princesses” are actually quite feminist, and tend to have more depth than most of the other characters in their films. There are even some portrayals of larger women as sexual creatures, as well. For instance, Ursula, though she’s a villain, is both large bodied and has very sensual mannerisms. There’s also the singing wardrobe from Beauty and the Beast, though she may only appear large due to the fact that wardrobes tend to be wide for the purpose of storing clothes. The point is, there are many life lessons from Disney that actually have a lot of importance for children. Here are 20 that we should remember to dust off and use in our adult lives.

1) Take Responsibility & Own Up To Your Mistakes

When you make a mistake, own it. Accept that you’re fallible, then work to fix your error. This is also known as taking responsibility for your actions. If you do something awesome, don’t be falsely modest. If you do something terrible, accept it. That’s the first step in making up for it. To err is human, after all. This is a lesson Aladdin learns the hard way. The first time Jasmine catches him in a lie, he doesn’t own up to it completely, and it comes back to haunt him. Mulan accepts that she caused a lot of problems for the Chinese army, so the Emperor forgives her and also acknowledges the good things she did for China.

2) Be Yourself

Whether you’re trying to make new friends, going on a first date, starting at a new job, or just walking down the street, this is important advice. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Sometimes it’s harder than it sounds because we all just want to fit in, even if we don’t agree with our peers. Keep your head up and your silly suit on. Enjoy your day out from the bell tower, no matter what anyone says. They may not know what you really think, but they will know if you’re not being yourself. Other people will respect you more if you behave like you. This is one of those life lessons from Disney that show up in every movie. So ride into battle as a woman, tell the princess you’re a street rat, and dance like nobody’s watching.

3) Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover, or By What Other People Tell You

Sometimes your first impressions are wrong—just ask Jane Austen (the working title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions). This is especially true if you base your opinion of a person on rumors or physical appearance. The most obvious example of this lesson is from Beauty and the Beast, but many other Disney animated films discussed it, too. Dumbo, for instance, was judged harshly for his large ears, but nobody expected they would help him fly because elephants weigh so much. Aladdin was thought to be stupid for his poverty. In The Fox and the Hound, an older Copper hunts Todd because he has been trained to believe all foxes are evil, despite knowing Todd personally. Alice is often thought to be lazy or a thief just because she is a foreigner in Wonderland. Get to know someone before you form an opinion of them. You’ll be glad you followed at least one of the life lessons from Disney, I promise.

4) Put Your Past Behind You

Stop holding on to things that cause you stress and keep you from reaching your full potential. Holding grudges, holding on to old relationships that no longer work, or holding onto old crushes that you know you’ll never get just puts more weight on your shoulders and will cause you pain in the end. Letting go is the first step forward. Forgive other people for the harm they’ve done you and then forgive yourself for your mistakes. Move on with your life and hopefully you’ll find better things. Snow White let go of her fear of her wicked step-mother and her past, learning to enjoy the simple life she led with the dwarves. Belle let go of her old dreams to save her father’s life and in the end found something even better, something she didn’t know she wanted. Cinderella (at least in the Disney version of the story) forgave her family for treating her badly to enjoy her new life of wedded bliss. As far as life lessons from Disney go, this one is a recurring theme.

5) Follow Your Dreams

Practicality and logic have their place. However, if your dreams and passions are not a part of your life, you’re going to find a time when you’re unhappy. Discontent brings all sorts of problems, so avoid it at all costs. Even if you only follow your dreams as a hobby outside of your job, make sure they have a place in your life. It’s easier to keep those around you, such as your boss and family, happy when you are too.

6) Communication is Key

You never know for certain what someone else is thinking unless you talk to them about it. Misunderstandings are the bane of everyone’s existence. Start on the right foot by discussing your problems and ideas with the other people involved. Maybe they have ideas you want to incorporate in your plans or some much needed advice. Even if you were right about the other person’s thoughts, this way you will know for sure. You can’t go wrong if you simply communicate (in a clear and articulate way).

7) Stay Humble and Kind

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Is there anything more important? Respecting yourself can include everything from standing up for yourself to not bragging about your achievements. Don’t be falsely modest, but be genuinely humble. You have nothing to prove. For the same reason, respect others. Treat them as they want to be treated or how you would want to be treated, whichever is better. Sometimes what people say isn’t what they mean, so it’s best to treat everyone with kindness and empathy. Don’t just pity them for their troubles, but try to understand how they are feeling and what reaction from you might help them best. Helping those in need, whether or not you think they are less fortunate than yourself, is one of the most valuable life lessons from Disney. Whether you’re volunteering to help serve food at a local soup kitchen, writing letters to orphans, or helping at the community center, think about how you can make the world a better place. Then do it.

8) Honesty is the Best Policy

The more you speak plainly and honestly about your intentions, the more your audience will respect you, even if begrudgingly. If you are upfront about your ideas and hopes for anything in life, such as a salary or a budding relationship, you’re less likely to have problems. In fact, you’ll waste less of everybody’s time, including your own, and the people you tell may help you find what you’re looking for. Example: if you’re not looking for a serious relationship, be upfront about it on your first date. That way, the other person can decide whether to continue in the relationship or not depending on their own intentions. On the other hand, if you tell a native populace that you’re looking to trade for natural resources, they may be more likely to aid you rather than hunt you down. (I never said these life lessons from Disney taught the villains very much, did I?)

9) Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way

If you want something, go for it. Put in the hard work to get it and you probably will. Don’t give up easily. If you fail the first time, try again. When you try again, though, put in more work, effort, and time. Learn from your mistakes from the first trial and if you fail again, at least you will fail better and have more to learn from. Finding a creative solution, or innovating, is more likely to help than hurt your chances of success. Even if you don’t get what you want in the end, you’ll have learned a lot from the experience. The next time you want something, you’ll have a better idea of how to achieve it.

10) “No” Means NO.

Consent is important. Not just in sex, either. Sometimes it’s hard to say “No” to someone asking for a favor, even if you don’t have the time or energy. I’m a people pleaser. I get it. Still, it’s important to learn that skill, because you need to take care of yourself and your own tasks or problems before you can help anyone else with theirs. Don’t go out with the wrong person just because you’re lonely or you pity them. You’ll end up hurting that person more than if you’d outright rejected them. Don’t accept a job that won’t pay you a living wage just because you’re flattered to have been offered the position at all. Most importantly, don’t lower your standards or forget your principles for any reason. If someone can’t accept your “No,” they are not worth your time.

11) Be Punctual

This is just a good life lesson in general, but it’s one of the most difficult life lessons from Disney to always follow. Some cultures are less strict about being on time than others, but if you’re on time for a meeting you’ll almost always make a better impression. From job interviews to dates to sporting events, punctuality is prized. When you’re late, you miss important things: the bus, the fish thrown on the ice at UNH hockey games, your very important date, hot food or bath water. Just ask the white hare in Alice in Wonderland, Mulan, or any character that’s ever used the expression “in the nick of time.”

12) Sometimes You Have To Make Your Own Magic

Magic in the sense of Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo might not exist in our world, but there are other kinds of magic. Putting in a lot of hard work can help you achieve miraculous goals – like fame and riches. Isn’t that what they call the “American Dream?” Often, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. There are smaller bits of magic in the world, too, though. Planning a surprise party for a friend will make them feel special and will seem like a magic trick to that one person who wasn’t a part of all the work along the way. Plan ahead and be prepared for all eventualities. When you pull a full-sized umbrella out of your Mary Poppins bag, your friends will think you have magic all your own. Believing in yourself and loving others brings a whole new meaning to the word “magic.” There’s nothing you can’t do without a little love in your heart. Oh, and just like Peter Pan, using your imagination will bring enormous amounts of magic to your life—that’s how we have the films to learn life lessons from Disney in the first place!

13) People Do Crazy Things When They’re In Love

Here’s a little advice: if you love someone, go out of your way to show them. Whether it’s planning a zip-line tour of Florida for your family, a pub crawl dressed in Disney character costumes for your bestie’s bachelorette party, or taking your sweetie on a carriage ride through Central Park, nothing is too crazy for your loved ones. I’m not just talking about cops who will take a bullet for each other, or Megara and Mulan giving their lives for someone they love; even in the small things of life, don’t be afraid to get a little wild. Like Aladdin taking Jasmine on a magic carpet ride, or Flounder and Sebastian staying with Ariel to protect her as she navigated human life. The small things do count.

14) Stand Up For What You Believe In

Often in life, people will challenge your moral code: your ethics and your principles. Don’t let go without a fight. Although it’s not always the intelligent thing to do to stand up for your beliefs, like when you think or know that you can’t win, it can still be important. It seems unlikely, but one person can make a difference. Also, like the teachers always told us in school, if you have a problem with something, you’re probably not alone. The others are just as scared as you to speak up about their moral issues, but someone has to address it or no one will be happy in the end. Stand up to the bullies of the world, whether they are in the hallways in high school or political office.  Some life lessons from Disney are especially important today, and this is one of them. All you’ll get from being a bystander is a guilty conscience.

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15) Face Your Fears

Nobody really wants to grow up. We’d much rather run and hide from the real world, which is exactly what Peter Pan did. Growing up is all about facing your fears—not just the imaginary ones like Captain Hook, but the every day ones like bills. The sooner we face our fears, the sooner we learn that we can handle them. Then we figure out that we can handle everything life throws our way, given the chance and some courage. Courage isn’t the act we sometimes confuse for arrogance, when we have no clue what we’re doing, but knowing we might lose and being brave enough to forge ahead on that path anyway for a worthy cause.

16) It’s Okay to Take A Break

We all get overwhelmed. Sometimes you need to spend time alone to regroup or to rest. Relaxation is another key component of a happy and long life. Hiding from your problems and taking a break from them are two different actions. Hiding from your problems means you never intend to deal with them. When you take a break, you plan to return and fix your problems with more mental power—and maybe a little help from your friends. So go ahead and take a break: just don’t make it an all-night break.

17) Weigh the Opportunity Cost

Opportunity Cost is an economics term for the cost to your happiness when you choose one activity over another. What do economics have to do with life lessons from Disney? Well, weighing these costs is a very important skill for decision making. After all, you want to make the decisions that will bring you the most happiness. Another alternative is to make a pros and cons list, weighing whether there are more reasons to do the activity or not to. This can also be important because sometimes what you think you wanted turns out to be bad for you, or not what you wanted at all. It’s one of those “eyes to big for your stomach” scenarios. It’s okay to compromise with other people sometimes. Just don’t compromise your principles.

18) Be Open To New Experiences

Didn’t your parents ever tell you to try new things? It was probably one of the life lessons from Disney that they learned themselves! This is all about that. If you don’t try new things, you’ll miss out on a lot of great things in life. Ariel tried walking on legs to be with Eric, Jasmine tried riding a flying carpet, Hercules battled a river monster, and Bernard flew on a seagull’s back. Just think—where would we have been if Robin Hood never tried archery? You might discover a lifelong passion, a new love, or a new career.

19) There’s More Than One Way to Find Love

Family ties. Friendship. Adopted family, who are sometimes also a set of your friends. Generosity and compassion of strangers. Even spirituality. Romantic love is just one kind of love this world has to offer. You’d be surprised at all the unexpected places where you can find love, and every aspect of these life lessons from Disney show us that. Respect for other human beings is love itself.

20) Don’t Be Afraid To Be Silly or Seem Foolish

Sometimes the best memories are made from silly moments. Go on some crazy adventures. Break a rule or two, maybe small ones. As Frankie Ballard says, how will you ever get to be old and wise if you’re never young and crazy? Being an imbecile and laughing with friends, having a soda bottle fight on the beach with your best friend and uncle, those are the memories that make you smile as you get older. It’s okay to have a little fun. Who are we to question life lessons from Disney? Remember Robin Hood and Little John running down the road in women’s clothes full of Prince John’s gold, Baloo and Louis having a scat-off, Jane learning how to swing on vines like Tarzan, the Aristocats spending an evening of jazz music with the alley cats, the Genie who wore his emotions on his sleeve and in his hilarious impressions, impersonations, and reactions. Read poetry in a cave at midnight by candlelight. Be weird.

No matter where you are on the walk of life, these classic life lessons from Disney movies will always apply. That’s what makes them a classic; they’re as timeless as a red rose, a glossy glass slipper, and a tale as old as time.
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Gabrielle Lamontagne

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