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12 Life Lessons to Gain From Reading Leo Tolstoy

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After completing a considerable chunk of Tolstoy’s major works, I’ve been thinking about the lessons that I’ve gained through my days (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

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

“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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