8 Life Lessons From Fairy Tales

by Liesl Shurtliff
Beautiful green leaves on blurred background, space for text. Spring season
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I love fairy tales. Love them. Anything having to do with fairy tales — whether it be books, art, film or theatre — immediately draws me in, and I've learned quite a few life lessons from fairy tales because of this. Luckily, I'm not alone in my love of a good old fashioned story: fairy tale retellings have been around since the beginning of time, and now we have movies, young adult novels, and television series that play off the legends of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping White, Little Red Riding Hood, and more.

I've even written a few fairy tale retellings myself. In my newest book, Red: The True Story Of Red Riding Hood , the infamous Little Red Riding Hood is strong, independent, spirited, and afraid of nothing — except magic. When her beloved Granny falls ill, Red embarks on dangerous journey through the enchanted wood to find the only thing than can save her: her one fear, magic.

Fairy tales have been around for thousands of years, and thanks to people like The Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Joseph Jacobs, and Walt Disney, many have survived and thrived through the generations, permeating our culture with important life lessons — or at least lessons that seem to stick. Here are eight life lessons I learned from fairy tales:

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1. Always be suspicious of talking animals. Especially ones with claws and fangs.

Because those talking wolves are rampant, right? Many fairy tales are better viewed through a symbolic lens, especially ones like Little Red Riding Hood. We’re not expecting to come face to face with a talking wolf, but the lesson is clear. There are predators out there and we don’t always recognize them as such. We have to learn to recognize the signs of danger, or we could find ourselves in the belly of a beast.

2. Never be afraid to ask for help.

These days we’re all touting the virtues of solving our own problems, and that’s great, but every now and then it’s okay to sit back and cry and realize that we can’t fix everything. Give someone else a chance to save the day! It will make them feel useful and important.

3. It’s great to sacrifice everything for love, but make sure the feeling’s mutual.

Most everyone has seen the Disney version, but have you read the original Hans Christian Anderson version of The Little Mermaid ? Let’s just say it doesn’t end so happily-ever-after. Before you get carried away and drop everything to be with a new love, ask yourself: Am I willing to turn into sea foam for this guy or Time and reflection may put things into perspective.

4. Extreme sensitivity can be a virtue.

Do you cry during commercials? Get offended when someone says you look tired? Bruise easily from the slightest pinch or bump? These might seem like weaknesses, but truly these qualities reveal what a sensitive person you are. You notice things others don’t and that can prove to be a great advantage in business, romance, or social situations. Also, you should really invest in a good mattress (the kind you can’t feel a pea under). It will ensure you get a good night’s rest and start every day on your A-game.

5. Parents don’t always make the best decisions.

In fairytales, parents are rarely shown in a good light, unless they’re dead. If they’re alive, they either ignore you, abandon you, banish you, trap you in a tower, or bargain you away. Hopefully we don’t have to suffer such extremes in real life, but everyone at some point has to come to terms with their parents’ human weaknesses. Parents make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. Children often suffer from them. We can either suffer for the rest of our lives or find ways to heal and figure out the happily ever after that works for each of us. Then we’ll go on to make our own big mistakes.

6. Actions speak louder than words.

We live in such a verbose culture. Everyone’s talking. Everyone has a belief or a theory or “the answer." But fairytales are all about the action. Sometimes we need to hold the talk and just show how we really feel.

7. Befriend someone a little different from you.

It’s natural to be drawn to people who are like us, and that’s fine, but make an effort to befriend people different from yourself — different culture, race, religion, political views. You might not agree with everything they believe or value. You might not understand each other all the time, but you will learn to appreciate many things outside your own experience. You will start to see the world from a different point-of-view, which is the beginning of making world peace. And who knows? It could change your life.

8. Live life to the max.

Fairytales are full of characters with big dreams facing impossible odds. Maybe their desires seem foolish from an outside perspective, but we can’t always know how things will turn out until we try. So if you have secret desires of your own, go for it! Take that leap of faith, go to your edge, jump! You might fly, you might crash and burn, but it’s the only way to know what you’re really capable of. Fairy tales aren’t always happily-ever-after, but they’re always about living life to the fullest.

Images: Ekaterina savyolova/Moment/Getty Images; Giphy (8)