8 Life Lessons We Learned From Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey may have been set a hundred years ago, but the trials and tribulations faced by its colourful cast of characters couldn't be more relatable. Here are eight life lessons that are as relevant in the 21st century as they were for the likes of Lady Mary, Mrs. Patmore and the Dowager Countess.
There’s a difference between being kind and being polite
Throughout Downton Abbey’s six-season run on television and more recently on the big screen, the titular estate plays host to an endless stream of aristocratic guests who have the most impeccable manners—yet are also utterly loathsome. Scratch that veneer of politeness at the dinner table, and you’ll find that the likes of the Duke of Crowborough and Simon Bricker are “gentlemen” in name only. In marked contrast, former chauffeur Tom Branson may not start off well-versed in formal etiquette, but exudes a warmth and kindness often lacking in his blue-blooded passengers.
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With great age comes great wisdom
The indomitable Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet Crawley, is truly Downton Abbey’s moral compass. However spiky her tone (and however savage her remarks!), the Crawleys’ venerable matriarch imparts sage advice as she sees fit, whether it’s to her son, her granddaughters, or her long-suffering staff. In a characteristically profound moment comforting Lady Mary, she delivers her own heart-rending life lesson, “Hope is a tease, designed to prevent us accepting reality.”
These hope quotes, on the other hand, will instantly lift you up.
There are few problems that can’t be solved over a cup of tea
No matter what tragedy or conflict Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes face in Downton Abbey, they always seem to sleep easier after commiserating over tea. What’s especially relatable here is that these two women are very much “downstairs” characters. Instead of throwing cash at their problems as the “upstairs” characters often do, they take comfort in each other through an activity that modern-day viewers can relate to. (Who hasn’t called up a friend for a coffee date to talk through their troubles?) The real beauty of the calmness and strength these two characters find in each other is how they “pay it forward,” sharing it with others and tapping their own reserves to soothe the souls of their troubled colleagues. “My advice, Daisy,” says Mrs. Hughes, “is to go as far in life as God and luck will allow.”
Don’t miss our interview with Lesley Nicol—the real life Mrs. Patmore!
Money doesn’t buy happiness
In Downton Abbey, there are as many troubles to be found upstairs as there are downstairs. In fact, in many instances throughout the series, the characters who have relatively simple, modest lives are actually the most fulfilled. Wealth may make the lives of Lady Mary and her sisters more convenient, but it certainly doesn’t spare them from misery and heartache. In contrast, the comfort and peace that servants Anna and Bates find in their uncomplicated feelings for each other, despite the hideously complicated paths their storyline takes, can be a matter of envy for many upstairs.
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A true friend is someone who’s there for you when the chips are down
There’s nothing like a crisis to bring out a person’s true colours. Luckily, those moments of truth come fast and furious in a series that serves up crises on a regular basis. When Dowager Countess Lady Violet falls gravely ill in season four, it’s none other than her nemesis and regular sparring-partner, Isobel Crawley, who nurses her back to health. Although the two characters are often at loggerheads, the near-death experience reveals the true depth of Isobel’s loyalty, and it further cements their unique (and oh-so-watchable) friendship.
These inspiring quotes about forgiveness will make you want to put down your grudges.
At a human level we’re all the same
Although you’ve likely imagined whether or not you’re better suited to life upstairs or downstairs in Downton Abbey, what makes the decision so interesting is that both worlds are relatable in so many ways. Part of the series’ enduring success is that we find ourselves sympathizing not only with the lords and ladies of the house, but also the scullery maids and the butlers. We’re as delighted at Anna’s wedding to Bates as we are when Edith marries her Viscount. Likewise, the deaths of both Lady Sybil and butler William are nothing short of crushing. Marriages, funerals and war are shown to break down social divides, reminding us that regardless of their status, these characters all share similar dreams, hopes and desires. Their need for friendship, love and dignity brings them to life, and encourages us to share in their emotional journey.
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The wheel of fortune never stops spinning
Ever feel as though the moment everything seems to be going your way, someone throws a wrench in it? That’s certainly the case in Downton Abbey, where celebrations are often cut short by a devastating turn of events (particularly if you happen to be watching a season finale). Case in point, the closing episode of season one, which sees the Crawleys’ celebratory garden party interrupted by news of the outbreak of war. Even more devastating is the season three finale, which juxtaposes the birth of George with his father’s tragic demise. *Grabs tissue*
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You can find true love twice in a lifetime
However romantic and idealistic in its undertones, Downton Abbey challenges the notion that there’s one true love for each of us, and that this “soul mate” is your only chance at happiness and fulfillment. Although it was a tough pill for us all to swallow (at first, anyway), Lady Mary’s life isn’t over after the death of her husband, Matthew. Over the course of the show’s final three seasons, Mary learns to love again, and by the series finale, appears to achieve her “happily ever after” with Henry Talbot.
Next, check out 50 Downton Abbey quotes to live by.