This year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting had a record number of world leaders in attendance, many of whom created headlines both in their home countries and around the world.

But the Davos programme also contained a wealth of insight into how to live a happier, more successful and satisfying life from a host of artists, adventurers, psychologists and cultural leaders.

These are some of the highlights.

1. Recognise that failure can be a good thing

Hilaree O’Neill scaling new heights at the Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas
Image: Hilaree O’Neill

Failure has been a critical factor in the success stories of many inspiring figures.

Hilaree O’Neill has explored, climbed and skied some of the most remote mountains in the world and is one of the most adventurous women in the world. She has lived through some incredibly difficult experiences, both mental and physical, including the death of a colleague.

Failure - in Hilaree’s line of work - often means life or death, and yet she talks about the fortunes to be found in failure.

“Only through struggling and frustrations, shame and heartbreak, can I appreciate what it’s like to come out the other side”, she told delegates in Davos, before going on to list the 3 areas where failure had helped her.

  • Failure frees us from perfection
  • Failure forces us to face our own mortality while mortality teaches us gratitude - one of the foundations for real joy
  • Failure means you have the courage to try new things. This creates character and empathy by exposing vulnerability

Meanwhile Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of the Chinese internet giant Alibaba, also honed in on the importance of learning from failure.

Before founding Alibaba and becoming a multibillionaire, Jack Ma failed his college entrance exam twice, failed to get into Harvard ten times and was rejected from dozens of jobs.

Jack Ma told the audience at Davos to learn from their mistakes
Image: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

"Learn from your mistakes - no matter how smart you are... We must share the mistakes with others. My thinking is that - if you want to be successful, learn from other people’s mistakes, don’t learn from success stories.

The book I want to write is ‘Alibaba: 1,001 Mistakes’. It's not about what you achieve, but how many tough days you go through."

Christiana Figueres, governor of Mission 2020, continued the theme in a session called the Power of Faith.

Situations of pain are very fertile ground for learning, she told a panel of religious leaders.

“There is never a pain, a difficulty from which we cannot learn, if we choose to do so.”

“By learning that lesson you enrich yourself.”

2. Break the silence

A simple conversation can make an enormous difference to wellbeing, according to two Davos contributors from very different backgrounds.

William Smith Stubbs, a mental health campaigner and co-Founder of Spur:Labs in Australia told a panel that tackling depression involves talking about it.

“My personal opinion is that no-one gets out of depression alone. We’ve created an artificial culture of ‘don’t talk about that’. For me it was support of the family - had they not been here then I would not be here, but I didn’t talk about it."

Feras Fayyad wants people to talk about their reaction to his film
Image: Feras Fayyad’s “Last Men in Aleppo” Courtesy of Grasshopper Film

More than 320 million people suffer from depression worldwide, and the leading brain expert Professor Murali Doraiswamy believes it is the last great taboo of the 21st century as well as a self-taboo.

William Smith Stubbs campaigns to encourage men to talk about their mental health, giving them the resources, skills and language they need in order to take action over mental health issues.

The second delegate to highlight the need to talk was the Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad who filmed the award-winning documentary and Oscar-nominated film “Last Men in Aleppo”.

During the making of his film he was arrested by Syrian Intelligence Services, tortured and jailed for eight months. He explained that he wanted people to discuss the feelings his film evokes.

“I don’t want people to feel shame, but to discuss shame. Not to feel guilty, but to discuss guilt. To discuss the feeling is more important than feeling it,” he says.

“When you feel very hard human feelings like guilt or shame, it doesn’t help at all. Discussing the feeling moves you away from being frozen by it.”

This theme was again picked up by the panel of artists who closed the conference, several of whom referred to the power of art to evoke empathy.

“Art can create empathy - it will be powerful and have a good impact on our world,” said Iranian artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo.

3. Pick the right job and location

The author and National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner has devoted much of his life’s work to finding out what makes us healthy and happy.

Older people in Denmark are some of the happiest in the world
Image: Reuters

One of his key messages is that, to a certain degree, we are in charge of these things. Just 40% of your emotional state is dictated by your genes and 15% by circumstances, he told the audience at Davos 18.

Dan Buettner's organisation charts the secret to a long and happy life
Image: Blue Zones

He urges people to pick a job they love as well as choosing the right place to live. Middle sized cities tend to be happier, he argues, big enough to allow you to find a good job, a mate and a social life.

The happiest set of people in the whole world, according to Dan Buettner, are Danish people aged 65 and over .

“All of their needs are covered. Happiness is about getting rid of the concerns like what if I get sick, what happens when I’m old,” he says.

Dan Buettner also points out that Danish people often find work they are happy doing, the importance of which was echoed by many speakers who stressed the value of finding meaningful work.