What are the secrets and ways to success in life?

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SHAFAQNA- What do Islam and other religions say about achieving success and happiness?

Concise answer
Most writers and scholars have endeavored to present an inclusive definition of success. Success, according to Islamic doctrines, means happiness and prosperity. Practically, absolute happiness and prosperity are the same. A happy and successful person is one whose actions and aspirations are in the way of Allah, who performs his religious and human deeds to attain proximity to Allah, to achieve His satisfaction and ultimately achieve the ultimate purpose of creation. Such a person is mindful of his duty to Allah and makes sure to make good use of whatever Allah has bestowed upon him in this world.
There are many factors impacting man’s success including purposefulness in life, struggle, patience, avoiding sins, economic security, etc.
Detailed Answer
The divine religions which have been revealed to humanity through prophets are the same according to the Quran. In other words, all prophets have invited humanity to the same school. They have preached monotheism and call on human beings to believe in the oneness of God, the Exalted.[1] Therefore, all prophets have followed a number of common principles, fundamentals and tenets such as monotheism, observance of piety, negation of personality worship, invitation to unity, glad tidings, warnings, and call to real success and prosperity in life.[2] Meanwhile, the codes of practice brought down and preached among humanity are different for some reasons especially in the time, environment, level of needs, capacity of people, and occurrence of distortion etc.  However, Islam being the final religion is now the most perfect religion whose teachings are inclusive and in harmony with sound reason.[3]
In any case, the secrets to great men’s success are something about which there is no dispute or discrepancy between Islam and other divine religion.
Every human being wishes to be successful in his worldly life. A question arises as to what success means and how one can achieve success in his life. In this study, we are going to deal with this subject-matter.  Success is a subject about which hundreds of books and articles have been written by Muslim scholars and followers of other religions with different spiritual and materialistic attitudes. That is because man’s happiness is directly related to the degree of his success in life. Successful people are happier, more satisfied and more popular. They have a special relationship with them.
Definition of Success
Does successfulness mean completion of degrees or attaining fame, promotion and wealth? Does it mean a good job, a good partner, a tranquil family life and having good children? Does it mean performing one’s religious and human duties and treading the right path, the path of guidance? Our conception of ‘success’ and the way we understand it prepares our mind to understand this term better.
Success has been defined as the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted; it has described as an event or undertaking that accomplishes its intended purpose, a state of prosperity or fame,[4] or even the progressive realization of moral, virtuous or Godly goals. Most writers have endeavored to present a comprehensive definition of success. But if we look at the definitions, they refer to a feature of success each. For instance, it has been said: “Peace and security are the best kind of success.”[5]
People who enjoy their work are the happiest. They do their jobs without thinking about whether or not they will get wealth, fame, power and social positions. The happiest people are those who enjoy their work.  No matter what their work, they try to do it well.”[6]
In the Webster’s Dictionary, success has been defined as “the correct or desired result of an attempt.”[7]
Shahid Murteza Mutahhari defines prosperousness and success as such: Prosperousness (and success) means complete satisfaction and attainment of virtues in the senses that maximum virtues are achieved and all natural pleasures are gained.”[8]
According to many people, success is not possession or position. It is neither accumulation of wealth nor is it synonymous with occupying a top position in government or an industry. True success is the accomplishment of an assignment or the attainment of a desired end. It means feeling internal satisfaction and being happy with its attainment after struggle and endeavor.
According to Islamic doctrines, the concept of successfulness is close to prosperity and happiness in meaning.[9] Although these two terms are different in some ways, the manifestations of absolute success and absolute happiness are the same. A happy person in the real sense is one who is in the right path trying to attain proximity to Allah by fulfilling his religious and human duties thereby attaining the ultimate purpose of creation. Obviously, attaining such an objective and success is in no way in opposition to satisfaction and seeking pleasure from things that are halal or allowable. Man can make everything good provided that he does it with the intention of seeking divine pleasure and satisfaction. For example, if a person sleeps, eats, works and has recreation for God’s sake and his intention is to please Him, that thing becomes virtuous. What is important is obedience to Allah and submission to God’s will. The Holy Quran says:
“Then whoever is removed far away from the fire and is made to enter the garden he indeed has attained the object.”[10] “And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, he indeed achieves a mighty success.”[11]
The Holy Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him and his family, says: “Whoever observes piety and obeys Allah’s commandments, he will attain salvation and great success. Verily, piety causes one to control his anger; and he will be protected from divine wrath or anger. Indeed, piety leads to honor as well as to divine satisfaction and promotion to higher spiritual  positions.”[12]
Concerning ways to success and prosperity, Imam Ali (AS) also says, “Whoever obeys Allah and His messenger has indeed gained a great success and has earned a great reward. Whoever disobeys Allah and His messengers has indeed suffered a clear loss and is subjected to a painful punishment.”[13]
It is pertinent to mention that success is a relative concept and it has lower levels. For example, attaining one’s planned objective or result in every attempt or activity and reactivating the dormant potentials followed by happiness and satisfaction is a kind of success.
Success: Factors and Ways
Success constitutes a complex array of interrelated elements and factors which will be mentioned as under:
1. Purposefulness
What leads a person to success and higher positions as well as enables him to attain promotion in life is a valuable and lofty goal. However, man should take into consideration all his faculties, capacity and potentials when choosing a goal; he should avoid adopting something as a goal which is irrational and unattainable because the result would be nothing but frustration and failure. Imam Ali (AS) refers to this point as such: “Whoever craves for something which is beyond his capacity and limit, he is entitled to deprivation and failure.”[14]
Success is always sought with a purpose. It begins with a purpose. That is because man is wise and sensible and his undertakings should also be wise. He must enjoy life and take action towards realizing his goal so that he may not keep wondering. Whoever uses his capacity and power to achieve an important goal, he will definitely succeed. To become a champion in sports, achieving success in higher education, acquiring a skill in a technical task, innovativeness, progression in a job, creativeness, making discoveries and invention and above all success in self-reconstruction, worshipping the Lord are all linked to having a clear goal and endeavoring towards it.
2. Discipline
Not only is discipline and orderliness one of the keys to success and victory of great men but the whole universe is based on discipline.[15]
3. Self-confidence
The socio-psychological concept of self-confidence relates to self-assurance in one’s personal judgment, ability, power, etc.[16] That is, the individual feels the capacity and ability of doing things.[17]
According to psychologists, self-confidence is the basis of salvation and progress. A person becomes more resolute and unyielding with self-confidence while he becomes weak, if relies on others. Others’ help destroys diligence and industry because in this case man’s motivation for struggle diminishes.[18]
Perhaps, it might seem to someone that self-confidence or self-reliance runs counter to reliance on God. That is, these two concepts are refuting each other in the sense that one who relies on God cannot rely on self. He must choose to do one of them. However, if we take a closer look at these two concepts, we come to know that there is no contradiction between reliance on God and self-confidence. The latter is amongst the main components of reliance on God. Reliance on God in its real sense refers to utilizing the natural means to achieve the desired results. Meanwhile, the results and effectiveness of those means, depend on God’s will. The source of self-confidence is God. The result of this belief is that one should rely on one’s own convictions and abilities and that by making use of these God-gifted powers, he will keep making his efforts despite difficulties.[19]
4. Determination and will power
Determination plays a crucial and fundamental role in every activity and action; it is necessary for attaining one’s goal. A man with free will and determination is one who decides to do something after he thinks well about it. He does it with strong and firm determination. The necessity of determination is to such a degree that if all other factors and means are available but determination is not, that objective would not be realized. We see a lot of people who have all the necessary means available to them but they are not successful.  They either have no determination or their determination is not strong. Because of psychological problem, they cannot take a decision. If someone’s determination becomes weak, life will be ruled by anarchy, failure and disappointment. In such a situation the potentialities and talents will not flourish, ingenuity, knowledge and material power will not come to fruition and no result will be achieved.
Islamic doctrines lay great emphasis on strengthening the will power and determination[20] and one of the brilliant features of believers is steadfastness and unflinching determination in the way of religious beliefs and human values. Imam Baqir (AS) says: “A believer is stronger than a mountain. A mountain is affected by an axe, but a (true) believer is not affected in his faith.”[21]
5. Seeking Counsel[22]
One of the keys to success and attaining one’s goals is to benefit from others’ experience, knowledge, thought and capabilities. Consultation and benefiting from the strengths and experiences of others, help reduce errors and speed up programs to achieve the goal of life. People who consult others in important matters are less likely to fall into any errors. They are more likely to succeed, make progress and headway in life. When a person seeks others’ opinion, he broadens and enlivens his thinking. He adds the intelligence of others to his own, and is protected from narrow mindedness and mistaken thinking tracks. He is more likely to get support for the decisions he makes. It also leads to a greater appreciation and respect for others. The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (AS) says:  Whoever seeks advice of the intelligent ones becomes enlightened with the lights of [many] intelligences and is guided in the right path.”[23]
Selfish and arrogant people who consider themselves to be needless of others’ opinions and advice are prone to great mistakes even if they are successful in their thoughts. Imam Ali (AS says: “Whoever is arrogant in his opinion, he will perish and whoever seeks the advice of experts and intelligent ones, he will benefit from their intelligence.”[24]
6. Remembrance of Allah
Relationship with Allah and love of Him not only result in peace, tranquility and cleanness of the heart and mind but they are also considered to be among the effective causes of spiritual growth as well as perfection of other personality aspects. Worship of Allah and communion with the Lord lead to piety and continence[25]. And piety leads to man’s prosperity[26] and salvation.[27]
7. Sincerity
Sincerity is a rare elixir which affects man’s action. Sincerity has been defined as ‘showing yourself as you really are,’ and ‘being inwardly what you show yourself to be’. It also means to be free from ostentatious and polytheistic conducts.[28] One of the impacts of sincerity is success in life. Imam Ali (AS) says in this regard: “Success in the undertakings refers to making your intentions more sincere.”[29]
8. Making Recourse to Ahlulbayt (AS)
The household of the Holy Prophet (S) are like stars shining and leading mankind to the right path. They are the best role models. Following them and adhering to their teachings will lead to success.
9. Avoiding Sins
The ultimate purpose behind the creation of man is perfection and eternal happiness. God, the Exalted, provided man with the tools and means of happiness showing him the path which leads to it. One of the barriers  to perfection is sin and disobedience of Allah.  Committing a sin leads to destruction causing man regret and sorrow. The ending is bad. A sin is like a deadly poison whose cure is only repentance and return to the God-gifted nature and servitude of Allah.  The effects of sinning does not become visible only on the Day of Judgment. Many of its impacts also implicate man in this world.[30]
10. Struggle
Life is a scene of struggle and strife. In this battle, some achieve victory and become successful and they go ahead while others fail and suffer defeat. The first is extremely happy whereas the second is languishing in pain and sorrow. Those who achieve victory and attain their goals are those who do not get disappointed even if they get defeated and confront problems. They continue to strive and struggle. Defeat does not impair their determination; rather they become stronger and more firm in their determination.
Many think that happiness and success are the alchemy external to an individual and that if one is lucky enough, he will succeed, otherwise he will fail. These people do not believe in the fact that prosperity and happiness is the outcome of man’s belief, struggle, diligence and industry.
It goes without saying that people from different social background and family have different capacities and capabilities. For instance, a person who comes from a rich family is different from a person who comes from a poor one.  The difference is poles apart but what is important is that every individual should use his own existing capacity and potentials, no matter what the conditions. He should make his life within the scope of his own potentials.  The same poor person can make an acceptable living through struggle and diligent work.
In Islam we see a great many doctrines according to which success, perfection and pleasures are earned through struggle, industry and steadfastness. God, the Glorified, says in the Quran: “Man can have nothing but what he strives for. The fruit of his striving will soon come into sight.”[31]
Addressing Muhammad Hanafiyah, the Commander of the Faithful (AS) said: “If the mountains move, you should not move.”[32] That is to say, you should be resilient, tolerant and steadfast to attain your goal and you should know that through diligence and hard work only, difficult objectives are realized.
11. Patience and Forbearance
One important factor which plays an important role in achieving success and is considered to be a necessary component of success in life is patience and forbearance.[33]
12: Economic Security
Welfare and reasonable possession of abundant wealth have been accepted by Islam as long as they are used in the course of a decent honored life. The Holy Quran harshly criticizes those who deny themselves of these blessings and bounties.[34] According to Islam, extreme poverty can hinder material and spiritual progress in life. The same is true with a lot of wealth which can cause someone to be very much proud and arrogant. Although the rich, the poor, and people from the middle class of society have the ability to attain the pinnacle of happiness, the best state for remembrance of Allah, and to have a restful mind and be focused towards spiritual matters in life, can be achieved through a moderate life. One who is poor must always be thinking of food and drink of the family. As well, one who has a lot of wealth must always spend his time and energy trying to protect and manage his wealth. On the contrary, one who enjoys a moderate and simple life is at ease and closer to success in life.

[1]Vide: Aal-e Imran, verses 19 and 67; Oneness of Divine Religions” Questions 245.
[2] Javadi Amoli, Abdullah, Thematic Commentary of the Holy Qur’an (Normative Conduct of Prophets in the Qur’an), vol.6, p. 41 – 123, Qom, Asra Publications Center, first edition, 1376 (Iranian Solar calendar).
[3] See,  “Reasons for Righteousness of Islam”, question 275; “Characteristics Making Islam Superior to Other Religions”, questions, 12304; “Islam the Most Perfect Divine Religion”, question 7312.
[4] See Lughat Nama by Dehkhuda, term “success”
[5] Kayhan Nia, Asghar, Success in Life, p. 35, Tehran, Mother Publications, 1382.
[6] Maurice, Tom, Real Success, translated by Gohariyan, Muhammad Ibrahim, p. 33, Tehran, Nasle Nou Andish, 1384.
[7] Kayhan Nia, Secrets of Success in the Labor Market,p. 16, Tehran, Mother Publications, 1382.
[8] Mutahhari, Murteza, Collection of Works, vol.7, p, 71, Sadra Publications, Tehran.
[9] See, “Human Prosperity and Perfection”, question 91; Happiness According to Mullah Sadra, question 14580; Ultimate Perfection of Man, question 5337.
[10] Aal-e Imran (3): 185
[11] Al-Ahzab (33): 71
[12] Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Behar al-Anwar, vol.19, p. 127, Beirut, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabic, second edition, 1403.
[13] Ibid, vol.4, p. 26 – 267.
[14] Tamimi, Amadi, Abdul Wahid bin Muhammad, Ghurar al-Hekam wa Durar al-Kelam, p. 624, Dar al-Kutub al-Islami, second edition, 1410 A.H.
[15] Vide, “The Relationship between Piety and Discipline”, question 20702.
[16] Stephani, Marstov, the Miracle of Encouragement, translated: civilization,  Turandokht, p.19, Tehran, Islamic Publications, 1375.
[17] Vide, “Self-Confidence and Tranquility”, question 4891; “Self-confidence and Consigning One’s Matters to Allah (Tavakkol), question 99.
[18] Smiles, Samuel, Self-confidence, translated by Dashti, Ali, p. 15, Tehran, Qalam Ashna Research Center, 1380 Solar.
[19] Shuja’ei, Muhammad Sadiq, Reliance on God, p. 50, Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute, 1383.
[20] See “Ways to Strengthen Will Power, question 525.
[21] Behar al-Anwar, vol.64, p362.
[22] See, “The Place and Importance of Consultation in Islam”, question 48582.
[23] Behar al-Anwar, vol.72, p. 105.
[24] Sheikh Hurr Ameli, Wasail al-Shi’ah, vol.12, p. 40, Aalulbayt Institute, first edition, 1409 A.H.
[25] Quran, al-Baqarah (2): 21
[26] Aal-e Imran (3): 130
[27] See “Remembrance of Allah” question 42399; “The Most Important Factors of Negligence”, question 45844; “God’s Impact in Life”, question 11474.
[28] See, “Acquiring Pure Intention”, question 837; “Treatment of Hypocrisy”, question 5073.
[29] Laithi Watheti, Ali, ‘Uyoon al-Hekam wa al-Mawa’edh, p. 354, Qom, Dar al-Hadith, first edition, 1376.
[30] Vide: The Wadh’ei Impacts of Sins in Human Life”, question 13258; Sins which Destroy the Faith, question 36477.
[31] Al-Najm: 39
[32] Sharif al-Razi, Muhammad bin Hussein, Nahj al-Balaghah, Subhi Saaleh, sermon 11, p. 55, Qom, Hijrat, first edition, 1414 A.H.
[33] See, “The Reality and Kinds of Patience”, question 30437; “Increase of Patience”, question 8418.
[34] Al-A’raf, 32.

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