Even the most wizened of misers will be generous with one thing – their advice. People love to give it. No matter how sad the jilted lover, everyone else will be only too happy to tell him or her about the other fish in the sea. Patience may be a virtue, but wise friends can't wait to reveal their trite insights into how best to navigate a path through the emotional maze of life. The modern world means that to even approach a computer results in a tsunami of memes telling you to be strong, or kind, or explaining why friends are like your knicker drawer. Yes, to give advice is clearly one of the greatest pleasures in life, so why, then, do so few people ask for it and an even fewer number actually take it?
We can all recognise the wisdom in really good advice but when we are hunched, sobbing on the bed, very little really helps. Of course, I know what the Persian Sufi poets said: "This, too, will pass," but in reality, until it does, I'm going to feel like moving to Minsk to start a new life.
I firmly believe that the vast majority of those who ask for advice aren't really looking for it. Just asking or composing the letter will probably have been the most helpful part and they will have decided on a course of action long before they receive any response. The same is true of the tearful huddle in the wine bar. Telling a friend what's wrong gives the problem a solid form that one can cope with. Leaving things unexpressed means that a worry can transform into a damp grey blanket of gloom that will envelop your whole life. If I was on Facebook right now I might post a picture of some meat with the legend: "Problems are like a fine steak – better flash fried than left to stew." In our gut we all know what to do, but sometimes we need someone else to give us a push.
If we are lucky, the best advice will have been given to us as kids. I remember my mother telling me that if I was picked on at school, it was always best not to react. This may have left me emotionally distant, but on the other hand I was never bullied. Before I left school she gave me a good-luck card for my exams that said: "You can only do your best, but DO it!"
At the time it sounded slightly threatening, but now I realise it was just an Irish mother's version of: "Be the best you can be!"
It doesn't matter where the words of wisdom come from, we carry them with us like a talisman. A tiny pebble of certainty in the shifting sands of life.
We still fall over, lose our way and get grit in our shoes. But somehow being sure of a truth, no matter what it may be, gives us hope. Happy New Year!
1 Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur
My mother, Eve, always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. A setback is never a bad experience, just another one of life's lessons.
2 Lionel Shriver, author
Sage advice from my old friend Ruth Dudley Edwards is "Get on with it" – a sound approach to everything. If you have the leisure to think about it, you have time to do it.
3 Ai Weiwei, artist
Not many people give me advice, but the most memorable came from a police officer when I was released from the 81-day detention in June 2011. He said: "If you work hard, you can become a good artist." It has inspired me to work harder to become a good activist.
4 Cliff Richard, singer
When I was getting serious about singing, my father told me that if I didn't make it there was still a life to be lived. Then, when I recorded Move It, he asked me: "Do you really want this? If you do then give it your all and give it all the time."
5 Jilly Cooper, author
My darling grandmother told me: "Whenever you meet anybody, look for something nice to say about them, because even if they've got a hideous face they might have fantastic ankles or lovely hair, and compliments do cheer people up enormously." She did cheer people up and I always wanted to emulate her.
6 Sandi Toksvig, comedian and presenter
My father gave me three excellent pieces of advice: 1. Never trust a man in a ready-made bow tie. A man who cannot concentrate long enough to fasten a bow tie is never going to be a well of nuanced or intriguing conversation. 2. One vodka martini is not enough, two is plenty and three is too many. 3. Live your life with passion, or there is no point. You might as well drink three vodka martinis with a man sporting clip-on neckwear.
7 Gordon Ramsay, chef
Put your head down and work hard. Never wait for things to happen, make them happen for yourself through hard graft and not giving up.
8 Antonia Fraser, historian
A very old marquess once said to me: "No gentleman is ever rude by mistake."
This seems to me a profound observation about the need for courtesy and consideration to all people at all times. Unless, of course, you have good reason for anger, in which case go for it.
9 Prue Leith, cookery writer and author
On clothing: if it doesn't go in, it can't go on. I seem to remember it was given to me by an irritatingly flab-free fella.
10 Brian Moore, former rugby player
An admonishment from Mr Hoyle, my English teacher: "Moore, there are two sorts of people in life, those that do and those that sit on the sidelines and snigger. Do I have to tell you which one is more worthy?"
11 Nic Fiddian Green, sculptor
Mahatma Gandhi said: "Live as if you were going to die tomorrow. "Learn as if you were to live for ever."
12 Richard Madeley, TV presenter
Passed on to me by the playwright John Mortimer, who received it in turn from his father: "All advice is useless."
13 Jo Malone, entrepreneur
Launching my new business, Jo Loves, I chose four key words as my guiding principles: Inspire, innovate, ignite, integrity.
14 Fern Britton, TV presenter
My mother always said: "It is never your extravagances you regret, it is only your economies."
15 Stephen Bayley, author, design guru
I have three favourites: 1. The old civil service direct-ive: never tell a lie but never tell the whole truth, and never miss an oppor-tunity to go to the lavatory. 2. From Henry David Thoreau: "Beware of all enterp-rises requiring new clothes." 3. From Jay McInerney: "Treat everyone you meet as if you have secret inform-ation that they are about to become extremely rich".
16 Matthew Williamson, designer
My co-founder and CEO, Joseph Velosa, said to me years ago: "If you don't have passion, then you have nothing. If you don't believe in what you are doing, why would anyone else?"
17 Alex Crawford, Sky News correspondent
Harry S Truman said: "The best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and advise them to do it."
18 Steve Cram, former Olympic athlete
Apart from: "Never leave the bar first because everyone will talk about you," the best bit of advice I got was from my coach, aged 14. He said I would never achieve anything if I hadn't already thought that I could. It worked.
19 Joan Bakewell, journalist
When someone annoys you, just imagine them naked. You'll feel their equal.
20 Amanda Holden, actress and presenter
"One's only ambition in life should be to be happy. Nothing else matters", from my husband, Chris.