The mayonnaise jar and the two pints of beer

This is an old story – almost definitely an urban myth. But I think that it makes some good points, so I do not apologize for telling it again.

When life just seems too hard and there simply are not enough hours in the day, remember the mayonnaise jar and the two pints of beer…

One day, a philosophy teacher stood in front of his class. Without saying a word, he produced a large, empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. When he had finished, he asked the class whether the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

From under his desk, he took out a box, which contained small stones. He started pouring them into the jar, gently shaking it from time to time. The stones settled into the voids between the golf balls. He asked the class again whether the jar was full. And again they agreed that it was.

He lifted another box from under his desk. This time it contained sand, which he poured into the jar, shaking in the same way. The sand settled into all the remaining space. For a third time, he asked the class whether it was full and they all agreed yet again that it was.

The students laughed when the teacher produced two bottles of beer. He opened them, sighed and emptied both into the jar. The students applauded.

The teacher explained: “The jar represents your life. The golf balls are all the really important things, like family, friends, your health and your passions – all the stuff that, if everything else were to be gone, would leave your life full and rich. The stones are all the other things that matter, like your house, car, iPad, whatever. The sand is everything else; all the small stuff.”

He continued: “If you put the sand in the jar first, there would be no room for the stones or the golf balls. Life is like that. If you expend all your energy on trivia, you will have none left for the things that really matter. Pay attention to the important stuff – things that make you happy and satisfied with life. There will always be time to do the household chores or mow the lawn. Take care of the golf balls first; the rest is just sand.”

One student put up her hand and asked what the beer represented.

The teacher smiled: “I am glad that you asked. The beer represents itself. No matter how full your life may be, there is always room for a couple of beers with a friend.”


[There are other variants of this story which involve a cup of coffee. I prefer beer. The message is the same.]

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