Do you want to be happy?

Since last week, I have been engrossed in the life and philosophy of Russian novelist and essayist Leo Tolstoy.
The novelist, who lived from 1828-1910, came from a long line of nobility. He was the youngest son of a count and a princess.
Although young Leo lived a privileged life, he experienced crushing losses during his childhood. His mother died when he was very young and his beloved father died a few years later.
After that, he and his siblings were raised by relatives. Still, Tolstoy wrote nostalgically of his childhood.
At age 16, he entered university to study Oriental languages. But, unfortunately, Leo was not very motivated. His teachers described him as “both unable and unwilling to learn.”
And his teachers were probably right. Because as a young man, Tolstoy was something of a “rake”–more interested in loose living than working.
After a string of failures, his older brother persuaded Leo to follow his footsteps and join the army. There, in a lonely outpost, Leo began journaling.
He finally had found his calling. Everything he wrote was publishable and the public soon clamored for more.
Now, after all these years, Leo Tolstoy is regarded as one of the greatest writers of all time. And his novel, “War and Peace,” has been called the greatest novel ever written.
Over the years, Tolstoy changed his perspective on life in two important ways. He saw the folly of war and he was committed to non-violence.
He also saw how wrong it was that the nobility had so much while the peasants worked in slave-like conditions. Later in life, he fought for the rights of the peasants and gave much of his wealth away.
At one point, he founded 13 schools for the children of peasants–when children of peasants had no education.
At the time of Tolstoy’s death, the police tried to limit access to his funeral procession but still masses of peasants lined the streets mourning their advocate.
Leo Tolstoy made a difference during his lifetime and still makes a difference today. He had so such wisdom.
I’ve become especially fascinated with what he had to say about happiness.
One of my favourite quotes is “If you want to be happy, be.” But my daughter and I have some disagreement about what the quote means.
I think it means, “If you want to be happy, be happy.” My daughter, on the other hand, thinks the quote means just what it says, “If you want to be happy, be.”
Either way, it makes us responsible for our own happiness. And that’s what Tolstoy intended.
Tolstoy was a self-empowered person. He understood happiness comes from the way you live your day-to-day life. He also believed true happiness requires being in touch with nature.
“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.”
So follow the advice of Tolstoy. “Seize the moments of happiness.” And if you want to be happy, be!
Marie Snider is an award-winning health writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at