Lessons in humanity: Do you consider your life to be successful? – Tennessean

Several years ago, I began asking myself if my life was successful? The initial answer was — of course I was successful.
I’m a physician who is in an incredibly happy marriage for over three decades. We raised three children that all have good careers, are all happily married and wonderful parents to our nine grandchildren. I have many close and loving friends. What more was there?
After all of these years and after all I had experienced, I wondered if my life was truly a successful one. I needed a good definition. The more I thought about it, the more I was intrigued by the thought that there must be a wide spectrum to the definition of a successful life.
I believed that the answer to my question was heavily nuanced and would be dependent upon the many aspects and measures of an individual’s life. I believe that our individual definitions are unique to our personal experiences in life; just like our DNA is a biological and specific signature for each of us.
I concluded that a successful life would be one in which an individual believed that they had either maximized their potential and environmental influences or had been able to minimize and overcome negative aspects of their genetic inheritance and environmental influences.
This relatively simple, objective and generic definition seemed to allow for an equalitarian approach to defining a successful life.
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This definition would allow for many individuals to feel as if their lives had indeed been successful, unlike Webster’s definition which states that: success is accomplishing an aim or purpose, having achieved popularity, profit, or distinction. 
In addition, I added subjective definitions to a successful life such as loving and being loved, having dear friends, having work that is meaningful, helping make the world a better place, and having religious faith in life to name just a few.   
I interviewed or received email responses from over 200 individuals of different socio-economic classes, professions and ages and included the homeless, the physically and intellectually challenged, the terminally ill, the famous, and the very poor and very rich, which led me to a two year journey with numerous interesting conclusions. 
These conclusions include: 
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As we age, it becomes increasingly clear what our definitions of a successful life are and whether we have or have not lived a successful life. The bar for living a successful life need not necessarily be a high one.
A world in which there are vast numbers of individuals— from young to old, from rich to poor, from laborer to professional, from religious to atheist, from parent to childless, from gifted to average and from healthy to compromised— is a world that values the total worth and vast differences of all human beings in a most equalitarian manner.
When the time comes for our lives to end, we should be able to appropriately evaluate our lives as successful or not. From over 200 individual definitions, it is my belief that a vast majority of all of us will be able to view our lives in the rear-view mirror and feel that we have indeed lived a life of success. 
For some it might not seem possible to achieve a successful life because of the numerous obstacles in their path, which may impede their ability to feel as if their lives have been worthwhile and meaningful.
However, even with interfering obstacles, there are ways for many of us to create a definition that works for the life we have lived.
A life of illness can still be a life filled with friends and faith; a life of disability can still be a life filled with gratefulness and pride in what one has been able to accomplish; a life of loss or sorrow can still be a life filled with helping others and making this world a better place; a life of poverty can still be a life filled with pride by raising children who accomplish a successful life on their own; and a life of meaningless employment can still be a life filled with family, friends, and faith.     
We define and measure so much in our lives today, that it would seem important to also attempt to define what a successful life would look like for each of us.   
Dr. Frank Boehm is professor emeritus at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and author of “Is Your Life Successful?” from Turner Publishing. Email him at 


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