The unexamined life

There’s a quote by Socrates along the lines of the unexamined life is not worth living. Related to this idea, I read a short story by Tolstoy once a year called The Death of Ivan Ilych which hits upon this theme of examining one’s life. The story always shifts things into perspective and makes me think about what I’m doing with my life–where I’ve been, where I’m going, etc. In a nutshell, the title character is a well-to-do man who suddenly finds himself knocking on death’s door. The overall experience has him reflecting upon his life and the choices he made, with the ultimate realization that although he led a conventionally successful life, he was markedly unhappy.

Anyway, the point of this post is to ask you, dear readers, how you would define a successful life? We all know what the conventional definition entails, but I’m curious to hear from you. So what say you? What are the qualities that make a life successful or meaningful?


6 thoughts on “The unexamined life

  1. Happiness and success do not always go hand-in-hand. Albert Einstein said it best: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” What good is having a successful life for yourself if there is no value in it for others?

  2. I like the summary you provided of The Death of Ivan Ilych. That’s one of the reasons I’m a Christian. I understand that all the success in the world can’t buy happiness, and that’s why there are so many unhappy people. They chase their dreams and have success (money, cars, women, popularity, sex, drugs, power, a nice-looking body, etc.), but they wonder why they’re not happy when they achieve success. Ultimately we can only fine true happiness in Jesus Christ, because he’s the only one that can offer permanent happiness and true joy.

    Therefore, what makes a successful life to me is living my life for Christ every day, and pointing others towards Christ so that they may share in the same lasting joy and happiness I have.

    1. Since I am incredibly happy without Christ your statement is only true in accordance with your beliefs. There are those who are happy in other religions, and there are those who are happy without theistic beliefs. If you think all non-Christians are not happy then that is terribly presumptuous. For instance, I could very easily say that since people with firm and unwavering beliefs get dopamine releases in the brain when those beliefs are reinforced, I could suggest that all people with strong beliefs are essentially drug addicts. Addicted to their beliefs they must constantly try to cherry pick information that confirms those beliefs, too afraid to change them because they would actually experience symptoms of withdrawal and thus aren’t really happy at all, just using a different form of drug to make themselves believe they were happy. But that would be presumptuous of me wouldn’t it?

      1. I’m glad you’re incredibly happy, but I never implied that all non-Christians are not happy. I indicated that there are so many unhappy people, despite their success, but I’m not sure why you’d disagree with such a statement.

        Is your personal happiness permanent and never fading? Or do you experience moments when you’re not happy? Even I have moments when I’m angry or unhappy. However my point is that, without Christ, no one can find permanent joy or happiness. If you have found such happiness, then I’d have to agree with you. But if you haven’t found permanent happiness or joy, then I stand by what I wrote. It’s hard to find joy and happiness in the midst of tragedy, but Christ gives us reason to have that type of joy, and that’s because we know there’s something better for us after we die.

        Sure, there are other religions that offer happiness, but I’d contend that they can’t deliver on their promise the way Christ can.

  3. The first definition at defines success as follows “the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals. ” While I think you are correct with the conventional definition, I have always seen success according to this dictionary definition. So as long as you accomplish your goals you can be successful. If your goal is to be happy, and you are happy, then you’re a success. Now of course it takes time to find the things that make you happy, but finding things that make you happy, brings happiness in of itself. If having a fancy car truly makes you happy than pursuing money, and a career that makes money is valid. But the chasing of money can never bring success, because money in of itself doesn’t do anything. There is also no end to it, because you can always get more money. So I don’t think that every goal is of equal substance in accordance to what makes us emotionally well in the long term. Having good friends, being compassionate and kind, family, doing a job that you find fulfilling, taking time for leisure. In studies of happiness these are things that correlate well to happiness. Wealth and possessions, or even honors, recognition, and fame do not. I’ve of course digressed a bit. In the end I think we have the ability to define success for ourselves and so for me happiness is my goal. Life will have it’s ups and downs…this is unavoidable…but I try to pursue things that “Feed the soul” so to speak. Which for me is love, good company, learning, and helping.

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