What Determines The Success And Quality Of A Life?

James M. Ridgway, Jr.
5 min readJul 16, 2022


Perhaps the truest aphorism about the human condition says that one only gets from life what one makes of life. or something to that effect. But that’s easier said than done, if one means a positive, rewarding life.

The first obstacle in the pursuit of a good life is adjusting to the hand that one has been dealt — family circumstance as to social status and wealth, basic IQ ability and some natural sense of a general curiosity about things outside of one’s immediate concern, which I define as intellect. You can think of IQ as how fast one is capable of climbing up the latter of life and intellect as perceiving which is the best latter one should be climbing — as far as positive success is concerned. I mean one may become a powerful mafia boss or a great statesman president, as say, Abraham Lincoln. Basically intellect goes far in determining the quality of one’s life, more so than simply the degree of success that one attains.

Once one moved beyond one’s individual situation and natural abilities there are those factors that play hard upon every human being of a reasonably functioning mental condition — the avoidance of mental and physical pain as best one can accomplish it. But most of all there is that devil of a compulsion, the unavoidable compulsion for satisfying one’s ego needs. Ego needs is by far the most complex factor of the human condition because it can have either a profound uplifting effect upon one’s self-worth and the lives of others or it can cause horrendously devastating effects, not only upon the few. but upon a multitude of humanity, as well, depending upon the degree of influence that one wields.

A super obsessive ego within a mindset that is incapable of positive creativity will often turn to extreme, destructive violence. One sees young men of meager ability whose ego screams for attention at any price walk into a classroom packed with defenseless little children totting a deadly AR-15, and in a matter of few seconds, or minutes at most, turn petite bodies into piles of bloody, mangled messes, unrecognizable even by their own parents.

Life has worked out to be so barren and hopeless for these sorts of killers that they wish to die, but first, before death, their ego demands that they be remembered, and with their terribly crippled minds that they posses only some horrendous act will be capable of such an instant attained remembrance.

Adolf Hitler was a man of such a violent. suicidal mindset. Some believe what sent him over the edge was the death of his younger brother when he was still a child. During World War One, (The Great War), Hitler had done well in the dangerous job of messenger. After the war he fancied himself a great artist but was rejected by a prestigious German art institute. Unnerved by his rejection he became something of a street person at times. On Numerous occasions he attempted suicide, and on one such occasion he was ironically prevented from shooting himself by a Jewish couple. Never was a culture of people so unlucky.

Of course at the end of World War Two, after being responsible for the deaths of some sixty million souls, Hitler did finally manage to kill himself in his Berlin bunker as fighting raged overhead. Years before his demise, like our own incurious Donald Trump, Hitler realized that he had quite a knack as a con man of folks not all that dissimilar than his own sorry self. This led him to a hateful brand of politics in which he ended up as the chancellor of Germany in 1933, and as they say the rest, sadly, is history. It being another case where a fanatical ego inflicted tremendous damage upon humanity.

In fact the ego is so powerful that it functions almost as an independent entity within the personal whole. Politics offers the chance for both wealth and power. It, therefore, acts on many a weak conscience as an uncontrollable aphrodisiac. Take for example Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Like so many Republicans, Graham hates Donald Trump. In 2016 the Senator would go around telling his friends and reporters what a tremendous danger the moronic and hyper egomaniac Trump would pose for the country should he become president Then after the January 6th attack on the national capital that was inspired and planed by President Trump, Graham said that he had finally really, realy had enough of Trump; he was through with him period. But, alas, once it became obvious that Trump still retained the power to turn the Republican base against him, the Senator rushed to kiss and make up with the Donald, becoming his subservient golfing buddy.

As an aside, I am no psychiatrist, but I strongly suspect that depression is at least partly the result of an unresolved standoff between conscience and ego, a situation that leaves one hopelessly suspended in paralytic limbo of spirit — wishing for relief via death.

There is a third level of affect upon the human condition that one is either completely oblivious of the fact, or else one is so terrified by its knowledge that one completely suppresses such knowledge: The universe has no rhyme or reason, beginning or end, or at least that is what unbiased scientific findings are beginning to strongly suggest. Since we humans are born and die, we are incapable of the concept of — always was and always will be, no beginning or no end — suns, planets and solar systems endlessly being born and dying, with one big bang after another, a forever string of universes. Trying to comprehend that outside of religious gibberish, we are hardly more sophisticated than a one cell animal.

After writing this little ditty of possible profundity, at age 82, I think I have at last come to fully perceive what it is possible for we humans to ever understand about life and “our” universe in which we are suspended. Of course such understanding is a bit of a double edged sword. As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss, and thus there is a penalty offset that flows from eating from the tree of knowledge. It brings on a loss of one’s child like feelings of hope. But for me general knowledge is much more rewarding that blind faith and hope.

As balanced humans we need to be capable of carrying in mind two diametrically opposed ideas at once: the realization that one cannot function well, if at all, without hope, and at once holding the notion that in the end hope is futile. Did the dinosaurs have hope? Did our long departed ancestors have hope? On the other hand, where would life be without the inspiring hope of love, music, poetry, giving to others and most of all possessing a playful sense of curiosity about everything?



James M. Ridgway, Jr.

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!