Getting the most out of life takes putting more into it

It all started with an innocent question at a conference where I was speaking. After I was introduced to one of the organizers, I asked her, "And what do you do for a living?"

"Wrong question, Harvey!" she replied. "It's what I do for a life that matters!"

Her 10-second answer was enlightening: She loved and cared for her family and friends, worked as a systems analyst for a small start-up, took harp lessons, volunteered at the history center and took her faith very seriously. This was a woman who had her priorities in order. She valued every minute of every day. She was determined to live the best life she could.

I realized a long time ago that you have to grab hold of life. You can't sit there and let it pass you by. You have to make things happen, not just wait for things to happen to you. But we all know that's easier said than done!

Philosophers through the ages have tried to define the meaning of life, and I'm not about to try to pick up where they left off. But I've heard some creative comparisons, simplistic to be sure, but clever nonetheless:

•Life is like a canvas. You fill in the picture.

•Life is like a mirror. We get the best results when we smile at it.

•Life is like a bank. You get out what you put into it with interest.

•Life is like a cafeteria. You must help yourself.

•Life is like a garden. Plant good seeds and tend them, and the bounty is plentiful.

Let's face it, it is a lot easier to create analogies about life than it is to explain it.

Maybe we should adopt one of Benjamin Franklin's habits. Every day of his adult life, he set aside time to examine two questions. In the morning he asked himself, "What good shall I do today?" Later in the day his question changed to, "What good have I done today?" This process is sure to produce more than philosophy.

Or we can practice the thinking of Charlie Brown of "Peanuts" fame, who said, "I've developed a new philosophy. I only dread life one day at a time."

I love Charlie Brown, but I feel sorry for the kid. With such a glum outlook, he's missing all the good stuff.

What makes for a good life? Most people would say people who love you and whom you love, work that you find rewarding and productive, comfortable surroundings, adequate food, good health, and for many, faith.

Because you are often defined by the work you do, and you depend on that work to provide many of the things you need, I think it's absolutely essential that you find a job or volunteer opportunity that aligns with your values and ethics. And always remember, you have to give before you get. Put your heart into it!

My friend, the late Norman Vincent Peale, agreed with my thoughts: "By the good life, I mean one that is intensely interesting, even exciting. It is a life that is full of meaning and rich in satisfaction. ... The good life is based on a definitive value system in which job and enthusiasm serve as both cause and effect."

Today, I'm offering a Mackay's Moral bonanza -- some gems that you can carry with you when life seems to be handing you proverbial lemons:

•Life is 10 percent how you make it and 90 percent how you take it.

•Life is like a 10-speed bicycle. Most people don't use enough of their gears.

•One of the greatest truths in life is that "no" is a complete sentence.

•The stumbling blocks in life are nothing more than stepping stones.

•The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.

•Every day is a gift! That's why it's called the present!

Mackay's Moral: It's never too late to become what you could have been.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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