Remember the mayo jar, and coffee

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.

When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayo jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The prof then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The prof then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”

The prof then produced two cups of coffee and poured the contents into the jar, effectively filling the space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the prof as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things: your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions, and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out for a sunset walk. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The prof smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may be, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

Can a cup (or two) of coffee a day keep the doctor away? I guess we are not dealing with your average Joe. Coffee has a mixed reputation; it’s considered mildly addictive by some and was once thought to increase the risk of cancer and cardiovascular problems. But coffee has recently been the subject of headlines touting its health benefits.

Every day, people around the world drink more than 1.3 billion cups of coffee, helping to make caffeine the most commonly consumed stimulant on the planet. In dollar terms, coffee is the second largest export in the world, after oil. And in the U.S., for the average person, 1 percent of the caffeine in their diet comes from coffee. With coffee topping the list of antioxidant sources in the North American diet, the benefits of a cup or two may be wide ranging.

Recent research cleared coffee of contributing to rheumatoid arthritis and pancreatic, colon and rectal cancer. In fact, regular consumption of decaffeinated coffee has actually been associated with a lower incidence of rectal cancer. Moderate doses of caffeine, meanwhile, may protect against Parkinson’s disease and a lower risk of gout among men.

When it comes to heart health, data from the Iowa Women’s Health Study found that one to three cups daily may protect against heat and inflammatory conditions among postmenopausal women. Women also were the winners in a French study that found women age 65 and older who drank more than three cups of caffeinated coffee or tea per day had a smaller decline in their mental acuity over four years than those who drank less than one cup per day. No effect was found among the men in the study.

But some of the biggest news is the finding that coffee consumption may help prevent type 2 diabetes.

But coffee is not a panacea — indulge in moderation. Coffee is a stimulant that can have negative effects on some (and I’m one of them). A mere 4-ounce cup at breakfast will keep me buzzing all day long, and it increases my heart rate and continues to make me too alert to sleep by bedtime.

So, when things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the two cups of coffee.