03/27/2014 01:52 pm ET Updated May 27, 2014

Don't Chase Anything You Don't Want to Catch

Many people, myself included, have pursued happiness and pleasure in places where we know it will not be found. It is tempting to seek the comfort of material things, indulge yourself, pursue your appetites and the satisfactions of the flesh.

When I was young, my mother watched my pursuit of pleasure with sadness at the thought that I could be so consumed by such superficial interests. While I always suspected her displeasure, nothing was said until she found the proper occasion -- a neighbor's dog injured while chasing a car.

When I commented on this sad incident, my mother took the opportunity. "Let that be a lesson to you," she said. "Don't chase anything you don't want to catch."

Her comment gave me pause -- then and now. If you think about it, it has a broad as well as a specific application. It makes you question your priorities and the way you spend your time.

What do you chase and why? Is what you are chasing -- the object of your activities and desires -- something you really want, something worth keeping?

Who among us would prefer a series of superficial relationships to true love? Who would want great wealth if it came with the condition that it could not be shared? Would anyone knowingly choose a life of ease and comfort over a life of meaning and purpose? If not, why do we do so much of what we do?

"If any organism fails to fulfill its potentialities, it becomes sick," Rollo May observed, "just as your legs would wither if you never walked." Much of this sickness is evident in the world despite our attempts to camouflage our failings with the pursuit of meaningless things.

The greatest regret we can have is not that our lives shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning. To be what we are and to become what we are capable of becoming is the noblest end in life. Our duty is to become useful, not according to our desires but according to our powers.