Tuesday, 27 May 2014

12 Life Lessons to Gain From Reading Leo Tolstoy


After completing a considerable chunk of Tolstoy's major works, I've been thinking about the lessons that I've gained through my hours, days or even weeks, of reading. 

Here are the twelve life lessons that come to mind first, which I'd like to share with you alongside some favourite quotes. After all, what better benefit of reading could there be than gaining lessons to keep with us for life?

Leo Tolstoy and life lessons


1. Expand your social circle and open up new perspectives


"He felt surrounded on all sides by quite different people, with their own serious interests, their own joys and sufferings, their own life of toil that was genuine and human. 'This is it,' thought Nekhlyudov, 'the best society'." ― Resurrection


2. Failure is normal, but setting too many rules for yourself can make it inevitable


"This is the second day when I have been indolent and failed to carry out all that I had set myself. Why so? I do not know. However, I must not despair : I will force myself to be active." ― The Diaries of Leo Tolstoy


3. Great art is often the result of great help


"Sonya's contribution should not be underestimated. Deciphering his execrable handwriting, and then preparing a legible final draft of the manuscript, was a gargantuan task..." ― Rosamund Bartlett, Tolstoy: A Russian Life


Anna Karenina's lessons to apply to our own lives
Anna Karenina, a novel which has
provided me with many life lessons.

4. Anxiety is fleeting when you shift your attention to nature and the world around us


"If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you". ― Essays, Letters and Miscellanies


5. The shortness of life scares us all


"Can it be that I have not lived as one ought?" suddenly came into his head. "But how not so, when I've done everything as it should be done? ” — Ivan Ilyich


6. Life isn't really that complicated


“Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.” ― Leo Tolstoy


Leo Tolstoy playing chess
Leo Tolstoy (left) playing chess with the son of his friend and publisher Vladimir Chertkov in 1907

7. We can choose our feelings and be in control of our minds


“If you want to be happy, be.” ― Leo Tolstoy

8. Be kindhearted and avoid greed


"Six feet of land was all that he needed." ― How Much Land Does a Man Need?


9. We should be careful how we define beauty


The Death of Ivan Ilyich as a guiding short story
The Death of Ivan Ilyich - perhaps the best
short story to help us understand death and
living well
"It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness". ― The Kreutzer Sonata


10. When we find ourselves wanting more, quite often we need the opposite


“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one's neighbor — such is my idea of happiness.” ― Family Happiness


11. We all deserve an education and opportunities for lifelong learning


“To educate the peasantry, three things are needed: schools, schools and schools.” ― Anna Karenina


12. There's no such thing as perfecting ourselves - acceptance is far more valuable to pursue


"If you look for perfection, you'll never be content". ― Anna Karenina



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12 comments:

David said...

A truly beautiful and thought provoking post. It really inspires me to start reading the Russian greats? Where would you recommend to start?

David said...

A beautiful and thought provoking post. It really inspires me to start reading the Russian greats! Where would you suggest as a good place to start with the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky?

Alexandra McCarthy said...

Brilliant post as usual!!

Brian Joseph said...

Some real gems of wisdom Lucy. My favorite, at least for this week is : - There's no such thing as perfecting ourselves - acceptance is far more valuable to pursue

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you so much, Alexandra! For this post, I used a free online copy (http://www.archive.org/stream/diariesofleotols00tols/diariesofleotols00tols_djvu.txt), but I also have the two volumes translated by R. F. Christian. I hope this helps!

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you, Brian! I'm so glad you enjoyed the post... I think I need to come back to it myself as often as I can!

bellezza said...

I love these, all of them resonate with me, and especially this one: "“Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.” ― Leo Tolstoy

It reminds me of the verse in Ecclesiastes, "A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God..." (Ecclesiastes 2:24)
Love Tolstoy. Love, love, love him. And, thanks for the worthy reminders.

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you David! I'd certainly recommend giving the Russian greats a go, perhaps starting with some less threatening short stories like The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy or The Lady with the Little Dog by Chekhov.


I personally like to read Dostoevsky about once a year... I don't think I could read all of his work in one go, and I have to be in the right frame of mind! Notes from Underground is a shorter book, but I found it a bit more challenging than The Brothers Karamazov, which had some really great life lessons in. I'd love to reread that at some stage. I also enjoyed reading First Love by Turgenev.


I wish you all the best with your reading journey!

tolstoytherapy said...

That's one of my favourite Tolstoy quotes, so I'm very glad you like it too! I also love the comparison you've made to that wonderful verse... very much appreciated! I always enjoy drawing connections between different thoughts and ideas across literature.


And it's always great to find a fellow fan of Tolstoy!

David said...

Thanks Lucy! I'll be sure to look for those the next time I go searching for books.

tolstoytherapy said...

Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich is one of my favourites, although Chekhov has some superb short stories too. Starting with Dostoevsky is perhaps diving in at the deep end, but The Brothers Karamazov is a simply brilliant book. I do hope you get to experience and enjoy the Russian greats for yourself! Happy reading, Lucy

Di Nguyen said...

I think "If you want to be happy, be." is Kozma Prutkov's quote, though for whatever reasons it's always attributed to Tolstoy.
In case I'm wrong, where did you find this quote in Tolstoy's writings?