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Leo Tolstoy: In Search For Meaning Of Life

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Throughout his life, Leo Tolstoy pursued perfection in everything he did. He sought to achieve his desires in different fields. He joined Kazan University but left three years later when he established that it did not fulfill his desires. He also joined the army but left as the violence was too much for him. He opted for a simple life in the country. He then ventured into creative writing and the author’s successful books. His literary work brings him fame. Although Tolstoy was wealthy, successful, and famous for his literary works, he fell into depression. He lost his motivation despite having a great family around him. Although others perceived him to be happy, he fell to an emptiness that led him to question the meaning of life. In his autobiography, “A Confession,” he details his falling into depression and his pursuit of the meaning of life. Tolstoy determines that the meaning of life cannot be found through rational sources like Philosophy and Science, but in Faith, which is irrational.

Tolstoy grew up in the Russian Orthodox Christian faith. However, in his late teens, he started questioning some of the teachings he got as a child growing up in the faith. He stopped believing in most of the things he learned as a child. He stopped praying as well as taking communion. Despite the changes in his faith, Tolstoy still believed in God. However, he did not know which kind of God he thought. The belief in God is what later guides him in his search for the meaning of life. He leans back to faith when other sources fail to provide the solutions he was seeking about the meaning of life. Therefore, although he changed his beliefs, his faith from his upbringing plays a crucial role in helping him find the solution to the meaning of life.

Tolstoy describes his crisis as an arrest of life. During that period, he lost his sense of life. He did not know what to do about and with his life. The feeling of dejection kept repeating, with the frequency increasing over time. The increased bouts of arrests of being led to his main questions about the meaning of life. The items that kept replaying in his mind were Why? Well, and Then? The questions guided his reflections on the meaning of life. It was during a period when he was courting. The idea of death was due to his loss of enthusiasm for life. The things that gave him the motivation to live no longer had the same effect, and he felt the need to accept and embrace death.

Although Tolstoy asked several questions about life, they all meant the same thing. They sought to find the importance of living and the things he did in his life. He tried to determine the benefit of his life to both himself and others. He questioned the need to live while death was inevitable. He also pondered on the fate of his achievements and accomplishments. He further asked the need to wish for or do anything as well as have desires. All the questions he had sought to find his purpose in life. He was questioning the reason for his existence and his life. Tolstoy argues that an individual cannot purport to explore the meaning of the universe without first establishing the meaning of his/her life.

In his pursuit of the answer to his question, Tolstoy first turned to Philosophy. However, he established that Philosophy does not answer the question. Instead, Philosophy asks questions that refine and clarify his question. He studied different philosophers and found no definite answer in their teachings. For instance, he finds that Socrate’s view is that a true philosopher seeks death, as the life of the body impedes a philosopher’s quest to seek the truth. The Buddha teaches that life is the greatest of evils, while Solomon’s view about life is that it is all vanity. The philosophers emphasized how life impeded an individual’s ultimate purpose. They did not provide the answers Tolstoy was seeking. He wanted to know how his life had a meaning when he would suffer, die, and be forgotten.

Although Tolstoy consulted Philosophy and Science to find answers to his crisis, he did not find any. Both Philosophy and Science provided rationality in thought. They both provided answers about finite things. However, they could not provide answers on the infinite. Therefore, it was impossible to find solutions to his questions as it would involve using the finite to explain the infinite. Rationality fails when defining the infinite using the limited. To comprehensibly find the solutions he sought, he had to explore a different source. He resorted to faith, an irrational source of knowledge. Unlike the sciences and philosophy, religion was predominant among the masses of men. It did not apply the rules of rationality that both science and philosophy used. Faith involves relating to an Infinite Being. While science fails to connect the finite and the infinite, faith finds this connection through an individual’s belief in God. Tolstoy argues that the truth is faith. He settles that faith in God guides a person’s life. An individual can derive the meaning of their life from their faith in God, service to others, love, unselfishness, and work. He concludes that most of the things that people pursue, such as wealth, power, status, and fame have no contribution to the meaning of life.

The realization that his answers lay within faith conflicted with Tolstoy’s beliefs. He had already rejected teachings on religion, such as the creation in six days, the Trinity of God, as well as angels and devils. He found himself in a position where rational thinking negated life while faith negated reason. Analytical knowledge placed life as evil and meaningless, while faith required the renunciation of purpose for one to understand life. Since rational thinking failed to provide answers, Tolstoy had to settle for the irrational knowledge of religion. Where reasonable understanding was unable to make sense, only faith could provide solutions.

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Tolstoy’s crisis reflects what many people undergo. Although most people start as ambitious and enthusiastic individuals, there are points in life where the enthusiasm dies away. It becomes difficult to motivate them, and they find little joy in what they do. Questions about their existence start to arise, affecting them mentally. Tolstoy found himself in such a situation despite having what would constitute a happy life. He was healthy, happy, had a good loving wife and children, had the respect of neighbors and friends, was famous, and had praises from strangers. However, that did not stop him from feeling dejected.

Similarly, people find themselves in situations where they feel dejected despite what surrounds them. Outwardly, they may seem happy. However, their outward happiness is a cover for their inner struggles. Most people in such situations struggle with identifying their purpose. They lose their drive, and things that motivated them no longer have the same effect.

The pursuit of the meaning of life is about rediscovering yourself. As Tolstoy found out, it is impossible to find the meaning of life without first understanding your purpose in life. A person must first understand the meaning of their life before understanding the meaning of life in general. To do this, one must establish the things that drive him/her. As Tolstoy puts it, the purpose of life can be found in faith through service to others, love, unselfishness, and work. Therefore, an individual must first examine their confidence in their pursuit of answers about the meaning of life. Being able to determine the things that bring sense to an individual’s experience helps him/her find joy and happiness in his/her life. It allows individuals to attain fulfillment and satisfaction in their life.

The mental health of an individual is essential. In “A Confession,” Tolstoy goes through periods of poor mental health. He even contemplates suicide, although he avoids situations that would increase the risk of suicide. For instance, he says that although the thought of suicide occurred to him naturally, he made every effort to avoid it. He hid ropes from himself to avoid hanging himself when alone and avoided going out to hunt with a gun to prevent turning the gun against himself. Although he was afraid of life, he still did not want to die. Many people face a similar dilemma in life. Sometimes, the pressures of life become too much, and individuals find no joy in life. They slide into depression, which affects their view of the meaning of life. For some, suicide becomes an attractive solution. The pain of living may exceed their desire to live and lead them to actualize their desire to end their life. That may explain the spike in suicide cases in recent years. A combination of life pressures and a lack of a meaning to life drives people to the edge. Also, some succumb to their suicidal thoughts. Tolstoy’s conscious attempts to avoid situations likely to allow an individual to harm himself/herself is a plausible strategy. By avoiding conditions that increase the risk of self-harm, an individual buys time to find solutions to their crisis.

On a personal level, I have faced times when I have felt low. At such times, I lack the motivation to do anything. My life feels dull, and I derive no joy, even in the most desirable things. It becomes hard to be motivated when you derive no pleasure or pleasure from anything. Such was Tolstoy’s dilemma. Having everything you need, yet not enjoying the moment. Having been in a similar situation, I find that Tolstoy’s solution would work for me. Rather than seek solutions in sources that lack, the best solution would be to reflect inwards. Self-discovery allows one to understand his/her deepest interests and desires. Such desires should fuel his/her drive and motivation to work towards something meaningful. I find it easy to relate to Tolstoy’s solution due to my Christian background, which is based on faith in God. Although science may provide some answers to my crises, the solutions have their limits as they work with the finite. I was reflecting on the infinite bridges, the gap where science is lacking.

Tolstoy’s story is a clear illustration of what life is. It presents a contrast in terms of the meaning of life. For instance, although Tolstoy is wealthy and famous, he does not find the meaning of life in his wealth and fame. He also does not find it among the learned. Instead, he finds it among the simple masses. The dull masses understand the meaning of life better than the wealthy and educated. That implies that individuals should not seek the meaning of life in superficial things such as fame and wealth. Instead, real joy and happiness are found in faith in God.

Tolstoy’s reflections led him to an important realization. Although his life had everything that people consider as prerequisites to happiness, he found himself in a crisis. He lost his purpose in life and toyed with the idea of suicide. However, he started reflecting on the meaning of life and realized that the answers lay within him. He had to discover what life meant to him first before he could understand the meaning of life.

Similarly, many people face situations in life when things no longer make sense. Although they may boast some achievements, they still feel empty and desire more from life. Such feelings affect one’s mental health. It is, therefore, essential to seek answers about one’s meaning of life, as Tolstoy did. The understanding of an individual’s purpose in life would drive his/her desires. It would act as a great motivation to enjoy life.

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Leo Tolstoy: In Search For Meaning Of Life. (2021, August 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 21, 2023, from
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