What is it that would make you look back on your death bed and know you had a successful life? I have often wondered about this question and I am still not sure what the correct answer is for me or anyone else. Society, through media and advertising tells us success is being famous, beautiful, rich, and having the latest gadgets. But when I see people who have fame, beauty, riches and toys, so many are unhappy. (note my earlier story on Another Unnecessary Death). Others are into the Buddhist theory that we keep reaching one level of spiritual growth in each life until we finally reach nirvana, the perfect soul.
I know that family and loving your offspring is important and gives me great depth of satisfaction. My own family was close but I was physically abused growing up abandoned by many of them. I can’t solve that, but I can be close to my own kids. But what of those without kids? Does their life have no meaning?
Some turn to fitness, diets, and exercise. It’s all they seem to think or talk about. They look great for much of their lives, maybe all of it, then they die from something. Did a life of good nutrition and relative health make them successful? Some are hedonists, not believing in anything greater than themselves and they just do what feels good. But even hedonists I know still get depressed and feel a longing for more. Sex, drugs and rock and roll does not satisfy either.
Many of us, including myself, turn to religion for meaning. My most fervent prayer is always, “I believe, help my disbelief.” I always wish I could have been a monk, devoted to God in some enclave at peace. Or a great missionary, bringing others to faith and perhaps dying a martyr, full of faith. But as I look at my life, I have pieces of many things, half-completed spiritual and secular goals. I can never be the complete success in my life if I never define what that means. So many of us go through life never thinking beyond the monthly mortgage, our next meal, or the latest problems at work. I want to be different. I want to know my goal and whether I have achieved it. At 48, I am still not sure what my goal is.
I have long joked that on my death bed I will look up, announce, “I finally understand what I want to do.” Then fall over dead. Life seems that way to me. Success is almost simply figuring out what your goal should have been. I enjoy life and every moment is precious to me. I love my wife, my kids, my dogs, my friends. In the long history of the world I am blessed to live in America, live in freedom, not be starving, and have most material things I could ever want. Perhaps it is the lack of a daily struggle simply to survive that leads us to wonder is there more.
Maybe Maslow had it right with his hierarchy of needs. Survival, shelter, etc., until we reach the frustration with having met all those needs and now we want meaning. What are your thoughts? Remember, a friend of mine once told me, “Comments are the new hugs!” Let me know what a successful life means to you, or if you are still searching for that yourselves, like I am.