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wonderland wisdom: 8 life lessons from alice

Make-Sense-AliceAll images / GIFs © Disney


For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I fell in love with the animated Disney film as a girl and have since fallen in love with the book and the live action film. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the book's publication, and there's been lots of buzz about the big anniversary. (For example, in some super exciting news for the design nerd in me, one of my favorite designers, Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Co. is illustrating a version of the book later this year. Seriously a book-dream-come-true!)

The 150th anniversary seems like a perfect time to revisit one of my favorite stories and see what lessons I can uncover. The older I get, and the more times I read the book or watch the film, the more I learn from it. Maybe it's just where I am in my life at the time, but I always seem to find new lessons each time I return to Alice and her adventures. 

Back in 2010, I wrote about Alice in Wonderland's Wisdom: 5 Life Lessons from Alice's Adventure. It's one of my most popular posts, and it indirectly led me to sign a book deal for my book, The Positively Present Guide to Life. I'll save that story for another time, but, if Alice didn't already hold a special place in my heart, her story certainly does now!

It's pretty fitting that, five years after I first wrote about Wonderland's wisdom, I revisit it during the book's 150th anniversary and uncover even more wonderful (and somewhat wacky!) lessons from Alice. The first article I wrote focused on the actual book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but this time around, I'm going to look at my favorite version, the one created by the one and only Walt Disney. 

Join me for a little journey down the wisdom-filled rabbit hole as I explore eight new lessons from Alice and her adventures in Wonderland... *Note: this is the first time I've used GIFs in a post. If you scroll over them, you'll see them move! Yay, Internet!*



 Alice: "After this I should think nothing of falling down stairs!"

When Alice goes tumbling down the rabbit hole, one of the first things she says is, "After this I should think nothing of falling down stairs!" It's kind of a crazy thing to say (after all, who wouldn't be panicking while falling down an incredibly long hole in the earth!), but I kind of love it for it's positivity. Rather than complain about how long or unsettling the fall was, Alice thinks about how she can use this unpleasant experience to put smaller troubles in perspective. (Though, to be honest, it's a little odd that "falling down stairs" is something she relates to. How often has she fallen down the stairs?!) Either way, I think we can all learn a thing about taking difficult situations and using them to shed a more positive light on smaller troubles. Having perspective is important, and one way to do this is to recognize, when things are tough, just how great it is when things aren't so bad (like, you know, when you're falling down stairs instead of rabbit holes). 



 Alice: "For if one drinks much from a bottle marked 'poison,'
it's almost certain to disagree with you sooner or later."

When Alice discovers a bottle labeled "Drink me," she pauses before putting it to her lips, thinking aloud: "For if one drinks much from a bottle marked 'poison,' it's almost certain to disagree with you sooner or later." Wise words, Alice, but, unfortunately not all poisons are marked "Poison." We have to be careful about what we consume and know what we put in our bodies. This lesson speaks to me a great personally since I've been sober for almost five years, and, for me, alcohol is a poison that only brings negativity into my life. Of course, that might not be the case for you, but most of us know what things we should or shouldn't put in our bodies to make ourselves feel good. Even if something feels good at the moment, it's important to consider how it will feel later. As Alice says, consuming what's poisonous to us is "almost certain to disagree with you sooner or later."    



Alice: You can learn a lot of things from the flowers.

To be honest, the flowers Alice encounters in Wonderland's garden are actually pretty bitchy. They're kind of like a mean little clique and, when they discover that Alice isn't one of them, they treat her pretty badly. That is definitely not the lesson you can learn from the flowers. What you can take away from these floral-focused scene is that, if you really pay attention to nature -- to the world around you -- you can learn a lot of things not only about the world, but about yourself as well. Where I live right now, it's springtime and everything is blooming and beautiful. When life's busy (and when isn't it?), it's easy to rush by everything and forget to pay attention to the beauty of nature. There's so much we can gain by observing the beauty around us and making a little bit of time to pay attention to nature.  



Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people!  

Throughout her adventures in Wonderland, Alice encounters a lot of crazy characters from the disappearing Cheshire Cat to the bitchy flowers to the March Hare and Mad Hatter to the angry Red Queen. In a world where she's unfamiliar with the customs, Alice tries to go with the flow and, for the most part, she's pretty patient with all the wackiness she encounters, but there are quite a few moments in the film when she puts her foot down, and decides she's not taking any nonsense. Though she's just a little girl, she has some wonderful moments where she stands up for herself and makes it clear that she's not interested in putting up with others' craziness. This is one of the great lessons we can take away from this film: set up your boundaries and don't let other people push past them. You know what you will and won't tolerate and it's important to make the dividing line clear to others. 



March Hare: "If you don't think, then you shouldn't talk!" 

The next bit of Wonderland wisdom comes not from Alice, but from the crazy March Hare. When Alice is accused of starting trouble, she begins to apologize with, "But really, I didn't think...," and the March Hare quickly (and pretty irrationally) interrupts, "If you don't think, you shouldn't talk!" In the context of the film, it's a ridiculous statement, but in the real world, it's a pretty great point. It's so tempting to just say whatever you want whenever it comes to your mind (particularly if you're in a situation where you're competing to be heard, like an argument or an animated discussion), but it really does pay to take a moment to think about what you're going to say before you actually say it. Words are incredibly powerful and, once said, can't be unsaid (even if you retract them or apologize). Thinking before speaking is very good advice. 



Alice: Oh, dear. Everything is so confusing! 

The GIF above pretty much sums up how I'm feeling personally about my life right now. There are a lot of areas in my life that are unclear and the future is quite uncertain so I know just how Alice is feeling when she bemoans, "Oh dear. Everything is so confusing!" Feeling uncertain can be tough sometimes, but it's a part of life. No matter how much you plan or prepare, you're never going to know exactly what the future holds. This can be a challenge to wrap your head around, especially if you're a bit of a Type A, control freak like myself, but it's a very important life lesson. Like it or not, a lot of things in life are out of your control and, unfortunately, not everything that happens makes perfect sense. Hard as it is to do sometimes, it's essential to be okay with not always knowing what's going to happen next. Embrace the mystery! 



Alice: I just wanted to ask which way I ought to go.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you ought to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn't matter, as long as I...
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn't matter which way you go.

One of the most iconic scenes in the Disney film is Alice's interaction with the Cheshire Cat. She wants his advice about which way to go, but she doesn't really know where she wants to go, which makes it pretty hard to ask for directions. A lot of us can probably relate to this. We often want directions before we even know our exact destination. What we can take from Alice's situation is that it's important to know where you want to go before you start making plans to get there. Sometimes figuring out a destination can be tricky, but it's good to at least have some idea of where you're headed. Life is full of surprises so the path you're on might change, but when you're starting out, it's always a good idea to know where you're going. It might sound obvious, but so many of us just head out with no direction in mind. But if you don't know where you want to go, you're probably not going to end up where you want to be. 



Alice: I give myself very good advice. But I very seldom follow it.

Since I was in high school, this scene has been my favorite. It's such a sad scene, featuring the song "Very Good Advice" (click to watch the video), but I don't think I'm the only one who can relate to giving good advice that I don't necessarily follow. Most of the time, we know what the right thing is to do in any given situation. Especially the older you get, the more knowledge you have about how situations typically play our and how certain interactions make you feel. That being said, sometimes it's hard to take your own advice, especially when you're living in the moment and trying not to think about the consequences. However, I find that it's really helpful to ask yourself, "What would I tell a friend in this situation?" and then try to follow that advice. It's hard, believe me, I know, but if you really listen to yourself, you'll find yourself in much more positive situations and feeling much happier about the choices you've made. 


Even if you're not an Alice in Wonderland fan (I know some people find it a bit scary or weird), I hope you enjoyed the lessons I took from the film. I spent a lot of time analyzing Disney films in graduate school so it's kind of a passion of mine, and I think there's a lot to be learned from the films. Though they were created for children, they are filled with lessons that we can apply to our adult lives. We might be all grown up, but we're always learning. We're always in search of wisdom, and, if we pay attention, we can find it even in the most unlikely of places. 





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I also find AiW is very rich in life lessons. The biggest thing for me was the 'tumbling through the rabbithole' which for me personally was a journey into knowing the unknown and the discomfort associated with it.

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