An Analysis of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Definition of Success


I might just have to kill someone if I see this sentimental bullshit printed on one more poster, bookmark, or coffee mug:




To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a

garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.


This is to have succeeded.


                                                           –Ralph Waldo Emerson


Apparently, Emerson had some pretty low standards when it came to defining success. I have taken the liberty of analyzing Emerson’s words, line by line:


To laugh often and much


According to Emerson, anyone who pays a ten dollar cover charge and buys two drinks at the Comedy Cellar is a success. Better yet, if terrorists unleash laughing gas in a major city, every resident of that city could become a motivational speaker.


To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children


I’ve won the respect of many intelligent people. But I also make about $5,000 a year, and I’ve failed at just about everything that I’ve ever set out to do. As for winning the affection of a child, that’s easy. I have a goddaughter who is eighteen months old, and she loves me. That’s because, whenever I’m holding her and she starts to cry or get fidgety, I let her play with my keys. And since she’s eighteen months old, she puts the keys in her mouth. This is unsanitary and probably dangerous, but I let her do it anyway. As a result, she displays a great deal of affection towards me. That does not, however, mean that I’m successful. It means that I’m irresponsible.


To earn the appreciation of honest critics.


Gigli was the most unsuccessful film in box office history. Either way, it’s a safe bet to say that there was at least one critic in this country who honestly liked it. The same can be said for any other movie, album, painting, etc. To quote the novelist Christopher Morley, “A critic is a gong at a railroad crossing clanging loudly and vainly as the train goes by.”


and endure the betrayal of false friends


People are assholes. Get used to it. The fact that Emerson had to endure them does not mean that he or anyone else, was or is successful. People from all over the world must endure things that are far more painful than the betrayal of false friends; things such as war, terrorism, poverty, disease, famine, and Ann Coulter.


To appreciate beauty


Who doesn’t appreciate at least some form of beauty? More importantly, appreciating beauty (or anything else) is involuntary. Based on Emerson’s definition of success, someone could walk into a museum, decide that he enjoys a certain painting, and be labeled a success. Call me old fashioned, but I tend to believe that the artist is the one who is successful, not the audience member. And keep in mind that appreciating beauty isn’t limited to art. I would fuck Jessica Alba so hard that it would create a massive earthquake, the likes of which mankind has never even come close to seeing. This earthquake would be of such scale that it would set off a tsunami in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that would take out all of western Europe. My point is that my appreciation of Jessica Alba’s beauty does not make me a success. In fact, after the earthquake and the tsunami, my appreciation of her beauty will make me go down as one of history’s greatest villains.


to find the best in others


This reminds me of an article that I read in the Sunday New York Times after Ronald Reagan died. Someone who served in his administration said that Reagan never had a bad word to say about anyone. Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you have Alzheimer’s disease. In order to say something bad about someone, you would have to remember who they are. Also, Reagan had no need to say anything bad about someone–he simply bombed them. For example, there was no way that he could have possibly found anything wrong with the tiny, harmless island of Grenada. Even if he could have, there was no need to waste time insulting Grenadines when he could just order US forces to invade the island and kill 212 civilians, which is precisely what he did on October 25, 1983. Based on Emerson’s quotation, it would have been okay for Reagan to have killed those people just as long as he also acknowledged that Grenada produces some delicious mangoes.


To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child


Talk about self-important, narcissistic bullshit! I don’t know why I keep bringing politics into this, but unless you’re Sarah Palin, almost everyone has a healthy child. Having unprotected sex doesn’t make you special. Besides, it is an incredibly rare thing to have a child grow up to make some sort of positive contribution to the human race. If anything, all that people do is deplete. All of us (myself included) each deplete the world of air, oil, and seven or eight trees. What do we contribute? Pollution and noise. Fuck your healthy child! All that they’re doing is adding to the problem.


a garden patch


Once she reaches the age of three or four, Sarah Palin’s retarded daughter will be able to grow a garden patch. Here is what it takes:

1) Dig a hole

2) Drop some seeds into that hole

3) Cover the hole with dirt


That’s it. In fact, it could even be done by accident.


or a redeemed social condition


Sarah Palin’s retarded daughter might have a bit of trouble with this one. Either way, it’s important to note that most unjust social conditions are only redeemed out of self-interest. Susan B. Anthony played a key role in securing women’s suffrage. Susan B. Anthony was a woman. Martin Luther King was the father of the civil rights movement. You might have noticed that Martin Luther King was black.


To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.


Here’s some more self-important, narcissistic bullshit! Has someone ever dropped something, and you picked it up for them? I’m not talking about a three-hundred pound barbell that they dropped on their chest. Has someone ever dropped a penny, and you picked it up off of the floor for them? If you did, then congratulations are in order! Because of you, they have breathed easier! That does not, however, qualify you for the Nobel Peace Prize. Besides, everyone who has ever been born will eventually die anyway, so what difference does it make?



September 8, 2008


5 comments on “An Analysis of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Definition of Success

  1. just because u didnt get the true meaning of it doesnt mean no one else will asshole.

  2. you don’t seem to understand the work. It is meant to be taken in its entirety, not in individual parts.

  3. ur a funny funny dude

  4. Emerson didn’t write it. It was written byBessie Stanley in 1904

  5. Very well written. We do only what we can. Our written is a reflection of what we are… I bet you would not even understand the sarcasm of my words. LOL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: