This Wednesday: 10 “Rules of Life” from Tolstoy.
I have a love/hate relationship with Tolstoy. I love his fiction, and for that reason keep feeling compelled to learn more about his life, but then am driven away by his faults. I should stay away from Tolstoy biographies and just read his novels.
In any event, for happiness-project purposes, Tolstoy is particularly fascinating — both because he wrote so extensively about happiness and because he made and broke so many resolutions himself. Spectacularly.
In Henri Troyat’s biography, Tolstoy, which I never did finish, because I found Tolstoy so maddening, Troyat includes an excerpt from Tolstoy’s “Rules of Life.” Tolstoy wrote these rules when he was eighteen years old.
Some of these rules are daily habits of life, and some are more like Personal Commandments. From my own experience, I think it’s helpful to distinguish between different types of life “rules.”
Given my current obsession with habits, for the book I’m writing about habit-formation, I was very interested in the habits that Tolstoy wanted to cultivate. (If you want to know when my masterpiece about habits goes on sale, sign up here.)
Here’s a partial list of Tolstoy’s “Rules of Life”:
-Get up early (five o’clock)
-Go to bed early (nine to ten o’clock)
-Eat little and avoid sweets
-Try to do everything by yourself
-Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater
-Keep away from women
-Kill desire by work
-Be good, but try to let no one know it
-Always live less expensively than you might
-Change nothing in your style of living even if you become ten times richer
Apart from the specifics of this particular list, I’m always interested to see when great minds take this approach. Taking the time to write your resolutions, or your personal manifesto, is an endeavor that can help us be more aware of the elements of a happy life. Everyone’s list of rules would be different; certainly Tolstoy’s list reflects him.
Have you written your own Rules of Life, or manifesto, or the like? Has it helped you better to live up to your own standards for yourself?
Gold star for anyone who can find the complete list online. I looked everywhere, but so far, no luck. One of these days I’ll have to go get Volume 46 of the Tolstoy Complete Works from the New York Public Library.