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What is Success in Life?

Updated on June 9, 2012
Is this the car of a successful person?
Is this the car of a successful person? | Source
Is this the house of a successful person?
Is this the house of a successful person? | Source

What is success? Is it merely the opposite of failure? Is it winning? Or is being able to rise above winning and losing?

Merriam-Webster defines success as a “… favorable or desired outcome; also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.” In other words, achievement of success could be defined as achieving one’s goals or as becoming wealthy, popular or famous. Albert Einstein advises us to “try not to become a man of success but a man of value.”

But listen, Al, if my goal is to become a man of value and I achieve it, am I not a success?

Like beauty, success is in the eye of the beholder. We tend to follow Merriam-Webster’s ‘also’ definition when we measure the success of others: wealth, popularity and/or fame. But how does one determine if one is a success from their own point of view? Since success is the achievement of a favorable or desired outcome, it could be said that if one has what they desire, one is a success.

Desire, therefore, determines success. If you desire it and then you get it, that is a success. If you continue to desire it and continue to have it, that is a continued success. If you continue to have what you desired but no longer desire it, or worse, want desperately to get away from it, you may not continue to think of yourself as ‘a success.’

What emotion do we experience when we get what we want? Many emotions spring to mind – triumph, pride, relief – but they all distill into the same basic, delicious elixir of happiness. That’s right, success makes us happy. “Look at me! I won!” “Look what I got!” “I made it!” Yup. Happy.

Yet often disappointment follows achievement of success. We often find that when we achieve a goal, acquire a thing or gain an experience it is not what we had imagined it would be. Achievement of a goal can cause unforeseen problems. A thing can turn out to be poorly made or otherwise less delightful than expected and the joy that we thought an experience might bring us may, in reality, bring us unanticipated pain. Therefore success and failure can be two sides of the same coin.

Success brings happiness and failure brings unhappiness. Lasting success equals lasting happiness. In other words, success is happiness. Achievement, acquiring and experience are only means. When you see someone who is happy, that person is successful no matter what their circumstances might be. The person who lives in squalor but enjoys every hour is successful. The person who lives with every luxury at their fingertips but spends every hour in fear, anger or sadness is not successful.

Of course there are degrees of success. Everyone is different, with differing capacities for happiness. There is also relative success, based on the wisdom that, "It could always be worse," which implies a sense of gratitude for what is. Gratitude creates acceptance and peace in the self. Acceptance and peace are sources of inner happiness.

To enjoy lasting success, desire happiness. Happiness comes easily, because 'happy' is the natural state of a human being. Since happiness in life is success in life, success in life is easy.


How successful are you?

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    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Yes, Ralph did come up with a good list there. Thanks, Jo.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 5 years ago from Tennessee

      "To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."

      Ralph Waldo Emerson explained it well.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thought provoking makes me happy, as do your comments. Thank you, Ruby

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Happiness to me is going to bed at night with a feeling of well being, able to pray knowing God listened. Success is in the eye of the beholder, success is not the same for everybody. It seems that people equate success with wealth. I know many who want for nothing but happiness eludes them. Thought provoking..I like that..

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Anjili, for your praise. It was a great question!

      Thank you, Rahul. I see that we agree.

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      I believe happiness and the feeling of contentment are true achievements and mark success in one's life..

      Great hub

    • Anjili profile image

      Anjili 5 years ago from planet earth, a humanoid

      Hi Tom,

      I can only say one thing. Thank you for giving such a fitting response to my question. Judging by the tone in the comments, many are gratified by your response. Well done. Voted up and interesting. Take care

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Friendship and love are very basic desires. Everybody desires these things. Yet in this existence, the things we chase seem to only run away the faster. We have designed a very addictive game that we use as a mechanism to accumulate wealth. Some people have a natural ability to excel at this game, but it is a game of simple if/then logic. "If I invest wisely then my money will make money," for example. Friendship and human love are not like this. One cannot do anything to bring them. They can only be allowed to come on their own. Back to Arb's "do right" philosophy, I believe that if you set your sights on a goal, you will attract others of like mind. If you concentrate on doing right by everyone, you will attract very nice friends who believe the same as you do. Attracting love is even simpler. To attract love, love.

    • kathryn1000 profile image

      kathryn1000 5 years ago from London

      I agree with your's ironic that so many wealthy people are unhappy.Friendship and love cannot be bought.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      You have some amazing hubs. This one included! I'm a fan and sharing!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Petra! Yes, I agree, the only success that matters is that which one determines for oneself.

      Still smiling at the end of the day. Jules, that is exactly my challenge now.

      KJ, it sounds like you are successful in retirement, too! Thank you!

    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 5 years ago from Florida

      Tom.. well written and interesting hub...I am retired and was successful in my career and raising my family.

      Soccess means many things to different people..I feel "success is in the eye of the beholder "..

    • Jules Gonzalez profile image

      Jules Gonzalez 5 years ago from From the Concrete Jungle to the Sunny Side of Me!

      I think success is when you are still smiling at the end of the day... Thanks for sharing.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      From a personal point of view, being successful means to be at peace and to enjoy the voyage of reaching the goals I set up for myself. People values are different so the only one to define personal success or failure is SELF.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      As do you. Thanks again, Arb.

    • arb profile image

      arb 5 years ago from oregon

      Perhaps, or maybe we would simply be somewhere in the process of succeeding. If the destination is a virtue rather than a thing, then it is an endless pursuit where the destination only arrives upon our own demise. Everyy failure and wrong incurred during the process guarantees our failure, but, what a nobel pursuit. Perhaps success is overated. Perhaps value is underated. Interesting subject matter. Thanks Tom. You pose things to think about.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Scott.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you, Brandon. You're cool, and you make me smile.

      Thank you, Arb. I think you touch on something very important here. It is not the arrival that matters, it is the pursuit. If one were to forsake all other goals but one, the goal of doing right would be a good choice. In the pursuit of doing right in all actions one can occupy all the waking hours of every day. Each action done in the cause of rightness could then be considered a success, if one wanted to think in terms of success or failure.

      Another aspect is, of course, failure. Many say that failure is more important than success, since we learn far more from our failures than we do from our successes.

    • arb profile image

      arb 5 years ago from oregon

      I wonder if happiness should not be the residue of a right pursuit. I've spent most of my parenting life trying to teach my children that happiness isn't the goal. The pursuit of right is the goal. That is a virtue and not a thing. Things may, like you say, bring momentary happiness, but, they are ever fleeting. Success, I think, simply measures our arrival at a predetermined destination and since we can not stay indefinitely we must appoint a new destination. Then success is ever fleeting. I think perhaps, that is why old al said we should pursue value rather than success. If we were busy pursuing virtue rather than happiness, we might all find happiness, I think.

    • Brandon Martin profile image

      Brandon Martin 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      WOW! Nice!

      If desperation equals success and unsuccessful means unhappy, then I don't know where I stand. I am a failure with desire like a fire, and yet I am happy. Yes there are times I am very unhappy, but being unhappy gets me no further than if I try to be happy as possible.

      This is a deep thought and I LOVE IT!!!!! Thank you so much!

      Interesting, beautiful, and awesome! Voted UP!

    • profile image

      Scott Plaut 5 years ago

      Great article. Nice pictures.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you guys! Yes, I am having a fabulous time, thank you.

    • Raven King profile image

      Raven King 5 years ago from Cabin Fever

      Well spoken!

    • addingsense profile image

      Akhil S Kumar 5 years ago from kerala

      hi tom,

      i just read your hub now. I agree with our opinion that happiness is the real success. But since happiness is a subjective experience. So for some people it is easy for some it is not.

      i will be here to support you

      wishing a splendid time in hub pages