Calling all millennials: Helen Mirren has shared her top 5 rules for a happy life

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray

Dame Helen Mirren (actor, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and feminist superhero) recently took on the role of the 2017 commencement speaker at Tulane University in New Orleans, USA.

As ever, she made sure to employ all of her warmth, wit, and wisdom to keep students hanging on her every word.

But, when the 71-year-old decided to share her rules for a happy and contented life, literally everybody gathered in the auditorium sat up and took notice. Pens began scratching in notebooks, dictaphones were hurriedly turned on, and camera phones were quickly switched to ‘video’.

Why? Well, because if beleaguered millennials are going to take life advice from anyone in the world, it’s Helen Mirren.

Amused by the sudden buzz of expectation in the air, Mirren shot the audience a wry smile, before getting down to the business of her tried-and-tested rules to a happy life.

And Mirren’s first rule? Don't to rush to get married.

“I married Taylor a lot later in my life and it’s worked out great,” she shared. “And always give your partner the freedom and support to achieve their ambitions.”

Her second rule for a happy life was, again, genius in its simplicity. “Treat people like people,” said Mirren firmly. “A long, long time ago, an actress friend of mine did the most simple thing that taught me a huge lesson. We were in the back seat of a car being driven to the location where we were filming, and she was a smoker, in the prehistoric days when you could smoke in a car, and she got her cigarettes out and before she lit up, she offered the driver one.

“So simple, but, you know? Thoughtful. To her, he wasn't a ‘driver person,’ but a ‘person person’ who might want a smoke.”

Dame Helen Mirren at Tulane University in New Orleans, USA.

Dame Helen Mirren at Tulane University in New Orleans, USA.

Admitting that times have changed somewhat, Mirren joked: “Today she would probably be arrested for attempted murder but that’s a lesson I never forgot, and I am grateful to my actress friend to this day.

“So, remember that every single person, whether they have dominion over your life or not, deserves equal respect and generosity.”

Mirren had an addendum to rule number two, and we’ve no doubt that it will strike a chord with women everywhere.

“No matter what sex you are, or race, be a feminist,” she said.

“In every country and culture that I have visited, from Sweden to Uganda, from Singapore to Mali, it is clear that when women are given respect, and the ability and freedom to pursue their personal dreams and ambitions, life improves for everyone.”

Mirren continued: “I didn't define myself as a feminist until quite recently, but I had always lived like a feminist and believed in the obvious: that women were as capable and as energetic and as inspiring as men. But to join a movement called feminism seemed too didactic, too political.

“However, I have come to understand that feminism is not an abstract idea but a necessity if we — and really by ‘we,’ I mean you guys — are to move us forward and not backward into ignorance and fearful jealousy. So now, I am a declared feminist and I would encourage you to be the same.”

Shooting a wry smile at the crown, the Academy Award winner added: “Oh, and addendum to the addendum — never again allow a group of old, rather grumpy, rich white men define the health care of a country that is 50.8% women and 37% other races.”

Realising that she had, perhaps, gone off on a tangent, Mirren went on to reveal her third rule for a happy life.

“Ignore anyone who judges the way you look, especially if he or she is some anonymous creep lurking on the Internet,” she said. “And if you are that person lurking on the Internet — STOP IT, just stop it, go outside and DO something.”

The fourth rule was similarly badass, with Mirren insisting that we all need to learn to stop letting ourselves be ruled by our fears.

“For the moments when you are challenged by other fears – like ‘Am I good enough?’ ‘Am I smart enough?’ ‘Will I fail?’ – throw caution to the winds, look fear straight-away in its ugly face, and barge forward.

“And when you get past it, turn around and give it a good swift kick in the ass.”

Get a daily Stylist treat

Subscribe to our newsletter
Read our privacy policy

Mirren’s fifth and final rule for a happy life was to stop over-complicating each and every single thing we do in life. In order to help us to keep things simple, Mirren had a list of “very practical dos and don’ts”.

These included:

  • Don't put hot cups on waxed wooden surfaces. In fact, don’t ever wax wooden surfaces.
  • Don't procrastinate.
  • Do say thank you when it is merited.
  • Don't procrastinate… especially in saying thank you when it is merited.
  • Don't lose your sense of humour.
  • Do confront bullies.
  • Don't procrastinate.
  • Do open your heart to love.
  • Don’t confuse sex with love. Love generally lasts longer than two minutes.
  • Don't smoke tobacco… or chew it.
  • Don't dive into water if you don't know how deep it is.
  • And don’t procrastinate.

Mirren, letting slip that she doesn’t always follow her own rules, confessed: “I would have had more dos and don’ts but I waited until the last minute this morning to compile the list.”

She then added: “Wait… one more, do call your parents at least once a week.

“Tell them you love them, and then ask for money. Not the other way around.”

You can watch her speech in full below:

So, to summarise, those five all important life rules are:

  1. Don’t rush to get married
  2. Be kind (and that means being a feminist)
  3. Ignore people on the internet
  4. Be fearless
  5. Follow some (more) simple rules

Consider it done, Helen Mirren!

Images: Rex Features


Share this article


Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

Related Posts