What Defines Success In Life?

What Defines SuccessHow we define success in life determines our level of happiness and meaning. Success in life has been defined in a variety of ways. I don’t see this as being confusing. Rather, I believe the meaning of success comes from each person who ultimately defines this for themselves.

Why Is Defining Success Important?

To be successful you need to define what that would look like for you. People often search for purpose in life to give their existence in the world meaning. Often people will seek “success” to have meaning in their life. But who defines success in life? There isn’t just one definition. However, it’s important to know what defines “success” in life to you and how you would recognize this for yourself.

Having a purpose gives our life value and that we can make a difference in the world. It doesn’t have to be on an enormous scale either. Look at the students who visit teachers from their past just to tell them what they’re doing in life. I’m sure it often gives the teacher a feeling of pride that they could make such a positive difference. This example shows how some people may define success in life as something other than money.

We also feel purpose in our life when we love what we do and it gives us a sense of joy or accomplishment. When we define our success in life as our joy or fulfillment it feels really good and makes us happy. Or maybe it’s about making a difference in the world simply by the people we touch or positively impact along the way. We feel really good when we can positively impact the life of someone, even if it’s a friend. 

An Example of Success in Life as Purpose and Meaning

Viktor E. Frankl wrote a book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning. If you haven’t read it, please look into it. Dr. Frankel was a young man imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp in 1946. The thesis he was writing inside the camp was taken away and destroyed. He fell into a depression and out of that experience realized writing the thesis gave his life meaning and purpose, even as a war prisoner where he had little to no control over his life. So he began to rewrite his thesis in the concentration camp. 

Dr. Frankl went on to write many other books and became known as an expert in the subject of meaning in our life and the impact it has on us.

When we find meaning and value in our life we are happier, more fulfilled and have a purpose. This purpose comes from inside us and is not to be taken lightly. Is that success? For some people finding meaning and value in their life means success.

Let’s take a look at how some other famous people have defined success:

How Some Successful and Famous People Have Defined “Success”:

(taken from Global Experiences, Dan Elias Bliss) https://www.globalexperiences.com/blog/successful-people-define-success  

Bill Gates: “It is also nice to feel like you made a difference — inventing something or raising kids or helping people in need.”

Michelle Obama about Barrack Obama: “For Barrack…It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.”

Arianna Huffington:  “…..and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.”

Maya Angelou:  “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”     

 Winston Churchill:  “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

As you can see, these highly successful people are not defining success in life through money or fame, as many people would believe. Bill Gates quoted his friend about success: “Warren Buffett has always said the measure (of success) is whether the people close to you are happy and love you.” 

It’s Not About Money or “Success” as it is Generally Known 

Can you see a theme in their words?  These famous and highly successful people didn’t even bring up the concept of wealth which most people would use to define success in life. Maybe we should take a closer look at why. What are the common threads around their definitions of success?

As you read their thoughts on success, there are themes of being happy, helping others, making a positive difference in the world, enjoying the work you are doing, and giving it meaning. You don’t hear them speaking of their wealth or notoriety.

It’s easy to say “well, they’re rich, so they can afford to not care as much about the money”. However, if you read more about these people I believe they had this belief before they became very wealthy.

I think these individuals believed in themselves, wanted to make a difference, and set out to enjoy what they do along the way. I believe this gave them meaning in their life. Meaning is not about notoriety or wealth. It’s about having a purpose that fulfills you and gives you the feeling of making a difference. It doesn’t have to be on a high level either.

For example, think of the nurses who comfort patients in hospitals who are often frightened about the unknown. It’s not about the money or prestige. It’s how they feel when someone is comforted and feels cared for. They feel they are making a difference in someone’s life. 

What about teachers who are able to help students who struggle in school? Or those who plant trees or conserve the use of energy to help the planet thrive? Many physicians who still accept insurance often don’t make near the money doctors used to make many years ago before managed care came into the picture. 

But even back then, I believe it was not just the money, but it was about wanting to help people and to make a difference in their lives. The cost of medical school tuition was a huge burden in their careers. 

Do You Know Your Own Definition of Success in Life? Or is it What Others Think?

Don’t let other people define “success” for you. As you can see, there is no one right definition of success in life. It’s about what makes someone feel good about themselves, gives them a sense of purpose in life, which gives them joy.

Sometimes the joy is not as strong for a person, but they still feel they are doing something important or want to make a difference in the world. Or perhaps what they do gives them joy but doesn’t necessarily make the world a better place.

The main point here is that you are successful when you feel good about what you are doing. Even if someone takes a job, not because they like it, but because they need to provide for their family. I would call that being successful because they stepped up to care for their family’s needs. I find that to be noble. 

Common Examples of Success  

  • Being Happy
  • Feeling Fulfilled in Your Life
  • Helping Others in a Variety of Ways
  • Making the World a Better Place
  • Growing Emotionally and Intellectually
  • Excelling in Something, Especially if You Enjoy it

This is not a complete list. The point here is that you are the one that must define your meaning of success. No one defines this for you. You are the Master of this journey.

How to Create Your Personal Path of Success and Meaning in Your Life

First, you must determine your own definition of success in life. For example, wanting to be a CEO one day. When you reach that goal you need to identify another goal, and another one after that, etc. 

Why? Because it is the continuation of searching for various goals that give your life meaning. And as we learned from successful people, this gives you a sense of purpose, pride, and satisfaction from your efforts. 

As you achieve each measure of success over time, you will develop a record of your successes that will sustain you during future obstacles in your life. 

Closing Thoughts

How we define success determines our own value and provides meaning in our life. Always striving to have success and purpose is the key to having meaning in your life. And meaning is what makes us feel alive. It sustains us even in difficult times. It offers a sense of value, and that our existence makes a difference in this world.

What is your sense of purpose, meaning, and joy? Having found that for yourself is Success!

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Dating, Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on YourTango.com and on MSN.com.


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    • I absolutely agree with you. However, I would add that we are worthy of good things just by being born. It is, however, what we do with this precious life as you say, that provides meaning in this life of ours. Thank you so much for writing to me with your thoughts! Please let me know if there are related subjects I write about that would be of interest to you. Take care.

      Susan Saint-Welch, LMFT

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