The theme of one of our recent Toastmasters meetings was “The Secret Ingredient.” The person who was serving as the Toastmaster that day was someone who loves to cook, and whenever she gives a speech or responds to a question on the subject of food, I always find my mouth watering just listening to her.

Throughout the meeting, she made references to her grandmother, who always included a secret ingredient in her cooking. No matter what type of food she was preparing, Grandma gave it a little sprinkle from the shaker that was always right next to the stove.

As she was growing up, my Toastmaster friend watched her grandmother in the kitchen, wondering about this secret ingredient and asking about it from time to time. Was it a secret spice? Some special mixture? Eventually she found out, and by the end of our meeting that day so did we. Grandma’s secret ingredient was love. At some point, she explained to her granddaughter that that’s what was in the shaker, and no matter what she was cooking, she always added a few little shakes of love to it. And it always tasted better because of it.

That story popped into my head a few weeks ago in the middle of a writers’ retreat I was attending, after a stray comment made by one of the presenters. She was a literary agent, and her session was about the agent/author relationship. During her presentation, she talked about some of the books she has represented, and the authors with whom she has worked. At one point, she told us about a particular manuscript that came across her desk. She loved the story, but said that it was nowhere near ready for publication.

“It just needed a little more love,” said the agent, who then explained to us how she worked extensively with the author through the long process of editing and rewriting the manuscript. The author listened to all her ideas and suggestions, and made numerous changes. The agent then enthusiastically represented the book, and was successful in selling it to a publisher.

I was concentrating fully on everything the agent was telling us during her presentation, so it wasn’t until later that her off-the-cuff statement – the one about the book needing a little more love – really registered with me. And I realized that she, like my friend’s grandmother, was adding a secret ingredient as she worked.

In both cases, of course, “a little love” was simply a euphemism. What it boiled down to was some extra time, attention, and input from people who were doing something they loved, for the benefit of someone or something they cared about. And it occurred to me that the world would be a much more satisfying and nourishing place if we all added a little love – that “secret ingredient” – to whatever we were doing at any given time. The work we do for a living. The time we spend with our families. The activities in which we engage.

I’m going to try to remember that and to season everything I do with a little love. I think I already do it much of the time, without even thinking about it. But there are places where I could do better. And if I concentrate on adding a little love – whatever extra time, attention or input might be called for – I’m sure that I, and everyone around me, will notice a difference. I’m also sure that life will become more flavorful, more satisfying and more nourishing whenever I add a few shakes of the secret ingredient. No matter what I’m cooking up.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on September 22, 2011.