It's a complex balance... A successful life is one of good health, first and foremost... Financial independence based on the fruits of doing something you love with the ability to comfortably give. Emotional stability... the ability to relate, effectively communicate/interact with others. Gratitude, grace.
An unsuccessful life... people who blindly take without consideration of the source, without gratitude. Psychopaths, crooks, all the usual obvious degenerate lowlifes who have no regard for others.
This is EXTREMELY hard to do! No matter what there will always be that little voice in the back of your head reminding you that you are not measuring up. I am getting better at ignoring it but it is hard.
Whats the line from The Matrix Revolutions? "There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept." Well, there are levels of success I am prepared to accept. And the older I get, the more and more meager they become. ha ha
Forgive me but I'm going to nitpick here (mostly because it's interesting to me).
Psychopaths can't help being psychopaths, and because they lack remorse and a great many other feelings which cause despair, I would say that many of them would probably regard themselves as successful, and/or content. By society's standards they might be viewed as "lost" or something similar, but I imagine when they look back on their lives at the end of it they feel fine because they can't feel regret.
Criminals without antisocial personality disorder... yeah. Definitely not going to view themselves as successful.
I like your definition of a successful life, by the way. I think I agree with you.
And that she left small traces of her life on earth, visible to only those who know where to look.
Everyone leaves traces of their lives on earth, wouldn’t it be good if that made a change for the better, even anonymously? There is a kind of magic in that. Something to balance out all the pain, hurt and anger.
I think there's some distinctions to be made here:
Complacency: Caring nothing for improvement or change, seeing no areas in which one could or should improve
Self-acceptance: Feeling okay about what is, not feeling ashamed or inferior and having an appreciation for one's own efforts
Greed/materialism/etc: Wanting more for its own sake, often superficial or short-term
Ambition: Wanting more for passion or principle's sake
The wanting more phenomenon is largely a problem when it's superficial. A world in which everyone deeply desired to be better, more knowledgeable, more skilled, and kinder people instead of possessions, sex, and status would be fantastic.
I think that as long as I get to do most of the things I want to do at least once, I'll be fine. I think I could be happy as a failure or unknown or whatever as long as I got to do them, and wasn't just doing it because I was worried about money or what other people thought of me.
I agree with what most people said here. I don't consider myself successful at the moment partly because of the financial dependence thing. I want to find a job, pay off my student loans, then travel. But, I am making progress towards my goals.
A successful life to me means being able to fail and still pick yourself back up and finding ways to improve yourself. A successful life means finding meaning in your life.
Being content with who you are doesn't mean there's no room for improvement. Knowing there's room to get better than where you are now is one of the most joyful and motivating things one can experience. It helps one to get up with something to look forward to. At the same time, you know should today be your last day on earth you will be happy with where you are even if you haven't reached your highest level of accomplishment. That is what contentment is all about.
Certainly, being constantly bent on improving oneself isn't for everyone. Some lack the energy and/or motivation to constantly improve. If that person is truly happy with not reaching higher, then good on them. That is a form of contentment as well. Again, being content with where you are equals a successful life, IMO.