I came across this little nugget from The Happiness Project. Every Wednesday the author provides a tip or list. Last week’s happened to be Tolstoy’s 10 Rules for life:
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 haven’t been able to finish yet, because I find Tolstoy so maddening, Troyat includes an excerpt from Tolstoy’s “Rules of Life” (I’m still trying to get my hands on the whole list). Tolstoy wrote these rules when he was eighteen years old.
Besides the fact that now I want to read Tolstoy’s biography, because if he was able to come up with this list at 18, that means it took him exactly half the time it took me to come up with most of the same rules. So here is how I do on the Tolstoy list:
1.Get up early (five o’clock):
Check. At least on week days. Today I didn’t get out of bed until nine. Okay, I was up at 8, but am reading a good book. So sue me.
2.Go to bed early (nine to ten o’clock):
Yeah, okay. This one is still a bit of a problem. Can’t seem to go to sleep before 11. But Mr. Tolstoy did not have Doctor Who eating away at his leisure time.
3. Eat little and avoid sweets:
Again, an admirable rule, one that I try to uphold unless confronted with an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and then it goes out the window.
4. Try to do everything by yourself:
Yeah, right. Here Mr. Tolstoy and I must part ways. I am a big fan of the division of labour. I am very willing to do certain things- pay bills, do laundry, plan for the week, make lunches for the kids, etc. I am not willing to take out garbage, open bottles of wine (unless they are screw top- the alternative always concludes with me cursing and needing to drink twice as much just to get over the frustration), deal with car troubles, home renovations, etc. And besides, I doubt very much Mr. Tolstoy was in the habit of emptying his own chamberpot. But I would have to read his biography to confirm this suspicion.
5. 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:
This one I totally rock. In fact I even made the girls make their smart (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals for the year and post them up by their bed. I did the same. I had a goal when I started my Masters that I would be fully employed in three years. It took two. I now have another goal, a little harder to attain so I am giving myself a little longer, but hope to achieve it. I also have goals for the week and lists for each day. Like Stalin or Roosevelt (depending how fascist you are) I heart the five year plans.
6. Keep away from women:
Not much to say about this one. If he means women in general, as in avoid their company at all costs, well that is hard to do seen as I am one. If he means women as in sex, well then I’ll just agree to disagree with the venerable man.
7. Kill desire by work:
This one took me a while to get my head around but in the end I think I agree. Discipline! Constant discipline! I choose to interpret this pugilistic philosophy to mean that even if you feel like quitting – the day is warm and sunshiny, or the day is grey and dull and your bed beckons- don’t. When work seems to be going nowhere, and you’re hungry and bored and would rather recreate the constellations on your forearm with marks from your staple remover than do anything useful, don’t. Whims be damned. Moods be damned. Slog on, Mr, Tolstoy! Slog on!
8. Be good, but try to let no one know it:
This one he totally ripped off from Jesus. Still a difficult one. Zee ego ees inclined to rear eets ugly head, ja? (That was my Freud voice). So let’s just call this one”the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
9. Always live less expensively than you might:
Hard to do when we pretty much live as less expensively as we can. Okay. That’s not true. We could cut down on alcohol, outings, etc. But that would be boring. Still, living simply is always a goal. Needing less, using less, making sure that carbon footprint isn’t as deep as it could be. All very laudable. Hopefully one day we’ll get there…
10. Change nothing in your style of living even if you become ten times richer:
Hmm. Not applicable. Yet. (See the starry eyed optimism in that ‘yet’?) But I agree. Except if I become ten times richer I might change the work thing. As in, not do it.
What I have come to realise is that it is better to have rules and break them than not to have rules at all. Concrete example: I have had a long standing no TV during the week rule. As you can imagine, it gets broken frequently. But as soon as I lifted that rule the television consumption during the week went way up. The family dinners became truncated, the kids were going to bed later at night and their reading time (and their reading with me time- I still read to them aloud) was gone. Just because we could watch TV, we did.
Noting this phenonemon, I quickly re-installed the rule. The first week went by with no TV during the week and nary a complaint. We have been doing things after dinner. I have taken the kids swimming twice a week for the last two weeks. We are in the middle of reading together the Legends of King Arthur (to compliment our watching of the BBC Merlin show- now only during the weekends). There has been two lapses in the last week, but I’m okay with that.Watching a 45 minute show from time to time is okay. Doing it every night makes us fat, lazy couch potatoes.
So I say yay to rules, even if they get frequently broken.
What are your rules for life? Any manifesto for living? Do share!
9 thoughts on “Random Things”
How does J feel about having your SMART goals posted by your bed?
To answer your question: “Rules for life” is anathema to me. The only rule I try to follow is that 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. This has backfired, often & spectacularly.
Rules and goals make me think of failure and punishment.
Rule 1 for every situation is DON'T PANIC.
It is almost never a good idea.
Rule 2 – there is no rule 2.
Rule 3 – avoid ultimatums
Rule 4 – all things inevitably change… so when things are shitty, remember Rule 1.
Rule 5 – I could always be wrong, even when I'm certain that I'm right.
Oh, I forgot Rule 6.
The plan will never last, so don't get too attached to it.
But it is a nice place to start.
Your Freud voice is perfect.
I agree that it's better to have rules and break them than not at all. They give you structure.
Doesn't ignoring or breaking the rules/structure defeat the point of the structure in the first place?
Or are the rules important in order to create a false sense of structure that becomes real because we need to create a sense of order out of the chaos of life?
That was my comment above, my keyboard has been doing wonky things.
I don't mean to pick on Alice, or Lina, or Tolstoy. I just have a problem with the word “rules”. Guidelines are better. For me. Rules, well, I said above what rules make me think of.
Though, as rules go, I like Tom's the best. Or Douglas Adams, whoever you want to credit.
What you said about false sense of structure. Seriously. Don't knock the false sense of structure. How else could we knock it down over and over and rebuild?
I thought I came up with those myself….
I suppose the Don't Panic bit. But I forgot about that completely. I honestly gave that as my number one rule for everything when I was a rappel instructor. I thought I was so clever.
So what happens you start thinking you're being clever?
Trouble and humility, that's what.
Only other people should tell you when you are being clever… otherwise when you say it about yourself, you probably aren't.
I also stole my last rule from a Jewish guy that left the Hassidic faith.