The Senior Life is supported by readers like you. We may receive a commission, or other payment, if you click on an affiliate link.

The True Meaning of Success

A timely reminder from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In recent months, I’ve been examining and studying the term success. What does it means to live a life which is truly successful? There certainly are no shortage of books, articles, and You-Tube video’s on the subject of success and there seem to be any number of well meaning individuals who have a real desire to make you and me, successful. As a simple, somewhat old-fashioned Yankee from New England, I seem to find my heart drawn back to the traditional, well-aged writings of people, like the sage, author and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson’s reflections on success are probably some of the most widely read and known. 

On the topic of success Emerson writes,

“How do you measure success?

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 redeemed social condition,

Or a job well done;

To know even one other life has breathed

Because you lived—

This is to have succeeded.”

It’s interesting to note that Emerson does not refer to true success by the size of one’s financial portfolio or real estate holdings, our status in society, a position of power, or fame, or the number of friends we have on Facebook. Truly, these may be considered “non-essentials” in terms of a successful life and a lasting and meaningful legacy which we hope to entrust to the next generation.

In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, success means “to laugh . . ., to win . . . to earn . . . to endure . . . to appreciate . . . to find . . . to leave . . . to know . . . all actions which take root in our heart and find their utmost and most significant expression shared purposefully with others as we invest our lives and our energy in people.

Using Emerson’s definition of success, I can attest that I have been truly blessed with a remarkable number of successful friends and family members . . . each of whom begins each new day with the goal of living life to the fullest and making a meaningful difference in the lives of others.

For some, this spirit of success is found as a volunteer, grocery shopping for a neighbor who is “shut-in”, or driving a friend to a doctor’s appointment, giving time at the local hospital or animal shelter. Still others find significance in giving to others in need and charities that do wonderful and impactful work across America and the globe.

Maybe today is the day to take time to thank the “successful” people in your life, the truly remarkable individuals who live each day with the primary motivation and heart to enrich the lives of others in both large and small ways. Maybe today is a good time for some self-reflection . . . how have you been measuring the meaning of a “successful life?” The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson are still valid today, maybe more so than ever. 

Subscribe to our newsletter