5 Life Lessons From Downton Abbey

February 5th, 2013 by LaRae Quy

Americans continue to make “Downton Abbey” one of the season’s most watched television series as viewers follow the  World War I-era British costume epic on PBS. Downton Abbey has successfully captivated an audience who might not otherwise be particularly interested in English aristocracy. It has left Hollywood scratching its head and trying to understand why the American public is captivated by the Crawley household—and their secrets.

Downton Abbey

The lesson is the same: people are less interested in being told a glitzy story than they are about a smart, high-quality television show that peaks into the lives of people who confront obstacles and break through barriers to find solutions to life’s problems. We may not be able to identify with the titles of Earl and Countess of Grantham, but we can all sympathize with the struggle of adapting to risk, uncertainty, and change in our circumstances.

Tip #1: Be Who You Were Born To Be

We do not choose to be born and we do not choose our parents. But we do choose how we shall live and we decide what makes us significant or insignificant. At the center of our being we have the answer; we know who we are and we know what we want.

It takes practice to hear our true desires. Our passion often comes as a whisper, or in a series of coincidental events meant to remind us of what is important and who we really are meant to be. Read The New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.

Viewers see the Earl of Grantham endeavor to bear the burden of his title, but it is obvious he has neither the disposition or talent to manage his vast estate. Instead, his life is defined by the values and expectations of others.

Tip #2: Choose Your Relationships Wisely

If we are to be the leader of our own life, we must be willing to look inward to find it. This is often very difficult to do on our own. We need to surround ourselves with people who care because they create the environment in which we will wilt or thrive.

I give everyone the opportunity to be my friend, but I share my dreams and goals only with those who value them as much as I do. I ask myself whether spending time with this person will lift me up or drag me down? Will spending time with this person help me become the person I want to become? If not, I find friends who will.

Downton Abbey reminds us that many of us are stuck in family situations that make it even more important to choose our other relationships wisely. Few of us have people in our life as feisty and witty Violet Crawley whose favorite past-time is dropping bits of acidic comments wherever she goes, but it’s great entertainment watching Maggie Smith lord over upstarts who pretend to be as well-bred as the dowager Countess of Grantham.

Tip #3: Recognize Those Who Love You

The most significant people in your life will be the ones who loved you when you were not very lovable. Pay attention to the circumstances of when these people showed up in your life. Remember your response to them. Notice how their presence made you feel. Vow to love them back.

The Downton Abbey characters are searching for love, but even more importantly, they are searching for acceptance from each other. No one who has watched the series can forget the vicious relationship between the sisters and the pain it created for them. As they move forward, they are finding ways to love each other, even when one of them is not acting lovable.

Tips #4: Embrace Change In Your Life

Change in our life frequently leads to periods of risk, uncertainty, and discomfort. No wonder we don’t embrace it! It’s very hard to let go of the familiar, embrace the unknown, and move into hostile and volatile environments.

It takes a strong mind to find our way through obstacles in life but as an FBI for 24 years, I found the safest and most effective way to move forward in these situations was by taking small steps.

This does not mean moving slowly—sometime change happens very quickly and we need to be able to adapt. I could still move quickly, but taking smaller steps instead of giant leaps helped when I moved into the unknown. It gave me time to explore hostile and unpredictable environments as I pressed into them. I could also change tack if I found I was using the wrong approach. Read Secrets of A Strong Mind.


Viewers are drawn, in part, to Downton Abbey because it sits on the precipice of a change in world order. Season 3 finds many family and servants back from serving in WWI. Change is inevitable—the class structure in England is breaking down, the expense of maintaining large estates is becoming unsustainable, and the role of women is evolving. The Crawley family can no longer change their situation, so they are challenged to change themselves.

Tip #5: Be Thankful

There are two ways of being rich: one is to have all you want, the other is to be satisfied with all you have. Taking the time in the middle of a busy day to be grateful will create a positive attitude because you will be reminded that the best things in life are free. You can find joy and happiness in the simplest of moments.

Happiness comes when you stop focusing on what you don’t have, quit complaining about your troubles, and offer thanks for the things that really matter. Read The Happiness Project.

We love watching the Crawley household fighting through some bad days to earn better days ahead. Sometimes it is only by seeing the tough side of life that we can appreciate the good side.

How have you embraced changes in your life? Which character in Downton Abbey reflects your struggles? What advice would you give them? 

© 2013 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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One Response to “5 Life Lessons From Downton Abbey”

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