Coffee Cup Analogy


A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university lecturer. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.
Offering his guests coffee, the lecturer went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups: porcelain, plastic, glass, some plain-looking and some expensive and exquisite, telling them to help themselves to hot coffee.
When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the lecturer said: “If you noticed, all the nice-looking, expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the better cups and are eyeing each other’s cups.”
“Now, if Life is coffee, then the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, but the quality of Life doesn’t change. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee in it.”
So please, don’t let the cups drive you…enjoy the coffee instead. Being happy does not mean everything is perfect.
It means you have decided to see beyond the imperfection

A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university lecturer. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests coffee, the lecturer went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups: porcelain, plastic, glass, some plain-looking and some expensive and exquisite, telling them to help themselves to hot coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the lecturer said: “If you noticed, all the nice-looking, expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the better cups and are eyeing each other’s cups.”

“Now, if Life is coffee, then the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, but the quality of Life doesn’t change. Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee in it.”

So please, don’t let the cups drive you…enjoy the coffee instead.

Being happy does not mean everything is perfect.  It means you have decided to see beyond the imperfection.

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57 thoughts on “Coffee Cup Analogy

  1. Never heard it put that way but I like it.

  2. It’s a great example to inspire those who only focus on the outside, the material world. While what really matters it’s what’s inside that cup.

  3. Lots of words for something very simple. You are not youre job. Or the coffee is not its cup in this case.

  4. Good analog…

  5. An excellent story to explain ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover”

  6. that was a very true statement on the lecturer’s part.

  7. Coffee tastes better out of polystyrene

  8. actually i think this is a pretty lame example. the cups all containing the same coffee, there was no difference, clearly. but unlike books, whose content varies in quality, the coffee was all identical; why SHOULDN’T they go for nicer (or larger) cups? moreover, the professor states that the cheap cups were “left behind”. clearly there was no dearth of mugs, so this was not a competitive environment. i would be hesitant to trust the professor to make a quality judgment of this large number of the remaining mugs; very likely his lower quality statement means something like the average mug niceness went down… so people left the chipped, awkward, unpleasant-to-drink-from mugs behind, and quite rightly. but there may be a pretty stellar mug or three that no one touched.

    in the end, this is a BS correlation and completely anecdotal.

  9. this is thoughtful

  10. bobvious :
    actually i think this is a pretty lame example. the cups all containing the same coffee, there was no difference, clearly. but unlike books, whose content varies in quality, the coffee was all identical; why SHOULDN’T they go for nicer (or larger) cups? moreover, the professor states that the cheap cups were “left behind”. clearly there was no dearth of mugs, so this was not a competitive environment. i would be hesitant to trust the professor to make a quality judgment of this large number of the remaining mugs; very likely his lower quality statement means something like the average mug niceness went down… so people left the chipped, awkward, unpleasant-to-drink-from mugs behind, and quite rightly. but there may be a pretty stellar mug or three that no one touched.
    in the end, this is a BS correlation and completely anecdotal.

    you missed the point completely

    this is akin to copies of one book with different covers, not different books entirely.

    the truth is completely lost on some people.

  11. one book with different covers: and there are covers to be preferred over others. a hardcover is more durable, more protective of the contents, than a flimsy paperback. one with detailed illustration can be more descriptive of the contents, and a finer font on the face can make the text easier to read and more attractive to the eye.

    the truth is that happiness isn’t settling for less, it’s settling for more than your neighbors got, in many respects; happiness is a differential between me and you, and amounts to a zero-sum game according to this analogy where each person eyes the other’s cup covetously. read some sociology.

  12. I feel better now.

  13. But I wanted TEA!!!

  14. ser feliz, es sonreir como un niño, cuando te caes en la calle…”¡¡¡¡¡

  15. ser feliz es sonreir como un niño, cuando te caes en la calle y encima se pone a llover, y no tienes paraguas….¡

  16. This sounds suspiciously like “Accept the status quo and don’t worry so much about improving your lot in life” to me. Call me a conflict theorist, but I’m guessing the person who wrote this wasn’t exactly poor.

    “They are just tools to hold and contain Life, but the quality of Life doesn’t change” If you are in absolute poverty your quality of life isn’t going to be quite as nice as a prince’s.

  17. Yeah, but some cups allow you to enjoy coffee better. For instance, a plain cup will not hold in the heat and the coffee will get cold fast. A plastic cup will burn your hands. A porcelain cup will retain heat and warm your hands at the same time.

    I agree with Kate. If you live in poverty, it’s pretty difficult to enjoy life as much as someone on a wave-runner.

  18. Mutlu olmanız, her konunun yolunda olduğu anlamına gelmez.
    Bu sadece sorunları sizin dışınızda görmeniz anlamına gelir.
    asoskay

  19. Very good points all of you, and well taken, while some are a bit more sophomoric then others. Some of them are not in English so I can not comment on them. but I digress, For one thing the article is merely an anecdotal statement, so there is no need to get melodramatic. However i thought it rather a cheery point of view. I think I would choose the porcelain mug however simply because as someone else mentioned earlier the cheaper materials don’t hold coffee well. I think also that I would have chosen based on artistic flair as I am a creative thinker, and based on size as I like coffee quite a lot so therefore would have picked a larger mug.

  20. Pingback: Shadows of Love » What’s more enjoyable, the “coffee” or the “mug”?

  21. Pingback: Shadows of Love » What’s more enjoyable, the “coffee” or the “mug”?

  22. I don’t think it has to be one or the other. I want the nice cup and to enjoy the coffee!! Both are possible in my world! I can appreciate the cup and the coffee.

  23. WOW! That was really nice

  24. Bobvious, you have to be a psych major, and probably a C minus psych major at that! I have a news flash for you…it WAS an ancedote! I think you should just stick with your facebook wall and twitter because it’s pretty ovious that you’re a twit and moreover you are probably more stressed and unhappy with your life to anaylze this ancedote as you have.Kate, my dear Kate…read over once again the entire first paragraph if you can, the entire group in the discussion were “alumni, highly established in their careers” where did you get poverty from? Speaking of conflict theorist, I think this is code for liberal spread the wealth and then be happy with your red clay coffee cup with a pretty yellow star on it theory. And finally, to those of you who read the story and deduced utilitarian needs from the coffee cups, three little letters, LOL!

  25. *cough* TROLL *cough*

  26. If the cups are “jobs and money”, then the poor and un-employed just get boiling coffee poured right into their laps.

    Is the rest of this blog as stupid as this story? How about the people who are too poor to buy medicine for their kids? Or the guy who gets laid off, loses house and car, wife leaves him for a man with a job, or old or disabled people who can’t work, and so are left to starve and sleep in the streets?

    Not having the “jobs and money” to pay rent or see a doctor or dentist certainly affects one’s “quality of life”. I know. And nothing makes me sicker than Polly-Anna bullshit like this. This is deeply fuckin retarded.

  27. Ok, guys, I honestly don’t even see the point of why your worrying about this so much. I mean, why waste your time arguing with people you probably don’t even know just to prove a point, when you could be doing something useful, like enjoying yourself with a nice cup of coffee, and a good book? I don’t see why it even matters what kind of cup it is in. I mean, sure I agree with you guys about the porcelain, and everything, but since it doesn’t specify what kind of cups they are specifically, then how do you know, they could just all be porcelain ones just with different colors and sizes.
    This just seems so pointless.

  28. It is easy to subscribe to this belief as long as you have a cup to put it in

  29. The point is that we are all fortunate enough to have been granted the gift of LIFE itself. All too often we forget that a man is a man, no matter what his circumstance. Now I’m not saying that being poor is the same as being rich, but the general gist of this anecdote is that life itself is what makes us all the same, and that we can remove ourselves from our suffering if we chose to recognize that nothing makes us different. We are all victims of circumstance, but we are all still victims.

    The cup represents the fundamental things that are ESSENTIAL to life. Food, water, friends, love ect. and by having a broken cup then yes, your coffee isn’t at its fullest potential. But the fact that your cup is of a certain type shouldn’t matter because its whats on the inside that counts. Troll me.

  30. With out the cup life is painful as it burns your hands

  31. bobvious sounds like a very materialistic person, they are no different from the students in the analogy.

  32. I guess the thing is, some people don’t see how unhappy the pursuit of happyness makes them. We all need some measure of comfort to be happy, but it’s easy to end up with an ulcer because a friend got a nicer house, a coworker got promoted, etc even if they were obviously in line for it. Or maybe they grabbed the cup with the gold trim, etc.

    Some people never cease being caught in an endless loop of worry and comparison. Yes life is a balance and we should choose high quality products, but should I constantly live in a state of comparison shopping? If I am never happy with what I have, I’ll never be happy with what I get, and then maybe I’ll never be happy…. so I choose quite often to quit pursuing happiness and just be happy. I like to hang out with people who can do the same.

    The expense and effort involved in obtaining only marginally more functional material goods is VERY often not worth the cost of ownership from a rational point of view. Not that I claim to be rational! The economy wouldn’t be where it is if we were all that rational…

  33. Disagree, money makes living life easier. No need for any stress due to bills and the such. With a lack of money, how could one travel and experience the joys of earth.

  34. There are many that missed the whole point of the post.

    I get the feeling most which do are too young to understand yet 🙂

    I used to be where you are now. I gave up the “money go round” many years ago and am more happy for it. In the end life is better when you step back and take time to enjoy the little things.

    Do not judge yourself by what your friends have. It just leads to an unhappy life because there will ALWAYS be people with more than you!

    Enjoy the little things 🙂

  35. Ordinary not-so-special coffee seems to *taste* better in a nicer cup. Like cheap beer or wine in nicer glasses. The message is nice, but your analogy is faulty.

    And we all judge people by the way they look, human nature is hard wired that way. Get real 🙂

  36. I think the fundamental divide here is between idealists and realists, as it usually is. This analogy can be descriptive of *actual* behavior: people fight for prettier mugs, or mugs they perceive to be “better”. Or, it can be interpreted in a more normative way: people ought not fight for prettier/better mugs, because greed and jealousy cause more unhappiness than one guy with a really pretty mug.

    However, the normative spin that many commenters and the philo prof want to put on this analogy is contrary to reality. People ought not fight over mugs? But they do. It’s better to be a big fish in a little pond, based on what actually occurs in reality; society gives context to existence, more now than ever when it’s so inescapable. To say that people *ought* to be happy with little things (I don’t exactly know what is meant by a little thing, it sounds fairly bogus) is not to say that this is possible. To say that ideally people would not compete with one another for resources is to deny the entirety of evolution and of the natural order. Chimps fight over bananas and mates, as do we; it’s nothing new, and it’s not unnatural to care about what your neighbor has.

    One ought not be pleased with having (or aspiring to have) a better mug than others? That is to say that one ought to be pleased with having a mug at all. Very provincial and ignorant. Such a worldview doesn’t accomplish anything good, it merely forces the thinker to subvert himself before all those who want similar resources. He survives *if* there’s a mug leftover for the weak stragglers. In a world of scarce resources, the submissive idealist just fucked himself; the analogy is flawed in the excess of cups. The philo prof’s normative cry is only possible given a society in which *no one* needs anything, and there is no self respect. Call it the tragedy of the commons, call it the scarcity principle, people are self interested before communistic and ought to be!

  37. eh.

  38. Everything is material. You, me, the cups, the coffee… If someone served you crappy coffee in an great ceramic cup, you’d complain. If someone served you great coffee in a crappy paper cup, you’d complain. Does the coffee or the cup have to be perfect? No, of course not. But they both need to meet certain requirements for you to have what’s called a ‘great cup of coffee’.

    The problem with people is that they don’t take into account relativistic experience. For example, there could be a cup of coffee that would simply make every cup you’ve ever had seem bland in comparison. Does this mean that you’ve never really enjoyed coffee before? No, but people will use their new ‘ideal’ cup of coffee as a personal standard, which prevents them from enjoying the coffee they once found acceptable.

    To enjoy life we must stop expecting and start feeling.

  39. normative normative normative

    normative was not found in the Cambridge Dictionary of American English

    normative was not found in the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

    I did find the word in another dictionary but why not use plain English? I am happy because I choose to be happy. I am certainly not rich but I do have a wonderful family, and, friends that I can rely on. Money gives us choices, not happiness. Relationships make us happy or sad, not possessions.

    I commend “The Art of Happiness” to you. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Art-Happiness-Handbook-Living/dp/0340750154/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266590347&sr=8-1

  40. Don’t fault an argument just because you don’t understand the vocab. “Normative” is a term widely used in philosophy, and is the proper language to use in any such discussion of values.
    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=define+normative
    Wikipedia has a very informative entry on it. Try the web instead of some nine year old intermediate dictionary.

    The point, in fact, is not specific to money or possessions. The point is that happiness is equated with relative advantage. Most of my argument did not even reference money, but resources that are necessary to survival, like food, shelter, and yes, companionship of family. Your point about friends and relationships giving happiness is only valid in a situation in which you don’t have to compete with your friends for resources. You are a first world resident, and the situation would be very different in a starving nation, or a prison camp. You think your friends would value your companionship until you all starve to death? No, at some point survival places self interests above your interests, and you’d be eaten.

    My recommendation to you is Nietzsche and Kafka. Solzhenitsyn will give you the reality check you need.

  41. Plastic fucking cups for fucking hot coffee is all fucking gross you dumb bastard.
    Totally get the fucking porcelin shit so the coffee warms your hands and tastes all good instead of burning your hands while the plastic turns to oil and deposites bpa into your cerebral cortex and spinal column never to leave.

  42. this analogy unfortunately has many faults, particularly on the cups. yes the cups are materialistic and you should enjoy the coffee or “life”. however, the cup will also dictate how your coffee or life will be. what if the plain mug had cracks in it? that would represent a broken, poor life. nobody would want that.

  43. Oh, man! You’ve got some hateful bitches following your stuff! Ha! Being one myself, I don’t know which I enjoyed more–your essay or the comments. Hope you keep it up. And your bitchy commentators, as well.

  44. And something else. As the butler for a billionaire, the coffee and tea I serve is in hand-painted, gold rimmed Royal Copenhagen china cups, at $750 per cup. (The saucer is only $300)

  45. Loved this…great analogy

  46. yeah, like im gonna drink my coffee from a paper towel.

  47. Who’s this professor to say which parts of life are the cup and which are the coffee?

  48. To the ppl that say others don’t “get” it, and to everyone putting us in camps (realists, optimists, liberals, materialists) … It is just an analogy, but it’s a bad one. That’s why ppl are whining about it, not b/c they don’t understand it.

    WTF is “an expensive cup” and why does the author think successful ppl would choose them? And omg, why would anyone eye another person’s cup? There must be some cultural context that was not included.

    It would’ve made more sense to replace “cup” with ‘trophy wife” or something you really do pick to look cool, and other ppl really will eye.

  49. what to do!wandering to grab life;but it is chained in the cup…..pour like this tips that heal the wound inside the cup!

  50. I am highly Enlightened!

  51. Pingback: interesting analogy | Worry-Free Packaging

  52. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you should write more about this topic, it might not be a taboo matter but usually folks don’t speak about these subjects. To the next! Cheers!!

  53. the lesson is neither normative nor idealist… it is balance. we all want better for ourselves, it is natural. but knowing when to stop pursuing better (if only for a while) and enjoy the good you have obtained is the trick in life.

  54. A nice but faulty analogy, in that the “cups” in life do, in fact, change the coffee. If you’re working a shit job and living somewhere that really doesn’t let you prosper, the coffee just isn’t going to taste very good.

  55. I would pick the nicest and most expensive cup so I could pawn it for a couple bucks later in the day. Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Opportunities abound, one must seize them.

  56. Yes, clearly everyone should have gone for the faulty mugs first, coffee is much more enjoyable, on fact, with the taste of plastic and heavy metals in it

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