Is Tolstoy Right About Families?

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This is how Anna Karenina begins.

I’m not sure I agree with Tolstoy, but let me think out loud. Since every family, and every person, is touched by happiness, sadness, worry, sickness, pride, satisfaction, anger, and delight - in short, every human emotion – I think the extent of our happiness depends on how we make peace with the negatives and are able to focus on the positives.

Some have more trouble making this peace than others, due to illnesses – both mental and physical – and extreme hardship, but nonetheless the extent that one can do that goes far to determine one’s level of happiness.

Happy families put up with the foibles of their relatives in a good-natured way. They don’t bear grudges and are helpful to one another.  Unhappy families are stuck in a negativity of the past.

So now that I’m thinking out loud, I’m beginning to believe that perhaps I do agree with Tolstoy.  Happy families are all alike – they have “short memories.” Unhappy families dwell on their particular “slings and arrows” of the past.


I put this in the Human Idiosyn-Crazies™ section of the book rather than the Amazing First Lines of Books section for this reason: Since we all have our Human Idiosyn-Crazies™, doesn’t family harmony depend upon tolerance?  But at what point can’t we laugh these off or ignore them?  At what point must we deal with them?  And what is the point that we should just accept them, and move on? 

This kind of discussion can be geared to any age.  Ask the younger kids what should be done about the cousin who hoards all the toys at family gatherings.  Ask the older kids about gossipy or mean teens in the family.  There are surely lots of issues to discuss, but keep in mind the goal of family harmony.  After all, family feuds do not lead us to happiness.  But tolerance, forgiveness, and short memories surely lead to happier, more peaceful lives.

©2014 Margery Leveen Sher