What my dog taught me about happiness

I have a dog. His name is Brian. He is smart enough to be annoying and cute enough to get away with it. We spend a lot of time together, him and I.   With a home office and hours spent working at my desk, he is often my only source for conversation. So, you know, we chat. Lately I’ve started calling him my therapy dog even though he has zero training and therefore no claim to such a prestigious title. He might not be disciplined enough to walk through the mall with me (although I would take him anywhere if I could) but he has taught me some very simple things about happiness.

He loves to sleep. This pup, like most, will never deny himself a nap and has no qualms about getting all the sleep he needs to permanently scare the squirrels out of his yard tomorrow. He needs that shut-eye for a big game of fetch, and however will he make it to walk number two without his beauty rest?


It is the ONE thing we can do that will have an immediate impact on our ability to cope, face challenges, and conquer goals throughout our day.   Being able to rise to the occasion, and give our best are some of the key basic elements that contribute to a happy person. If lack of sleep depletes your ability to approach tasks with everything you’ve got, happiness gets tossed right out the window.

The glorification of busy has cast a long shadow of guilt over those who prefer to get adequate sleep. But I’ve got a secret. The sleepless hustle isn’t doing any of us any good. It’s not physically possible to maintain productive brain function without a sufficient amount of sleep. Enough shut-eye allows you to approach tasks with more clarity, creativity, and organization. Without it you’ll spend more time struggling for solutions that would otherwise come much easier, not to mention how it perpetuates society’s praise of burnout. We need to see the value of sleep for what it is and how it fuels our ability to do everything, including living in the happy zone. So be like Brian. Pass right out, drool on the floor, and don’t feel even a little bit bad about it.

He shares. Brian has a decent selection of toys. Squeakers, tennis balls, and a carefully curated collection of sticks that he rescued from the park. He chews them, and loves to carry them all over the place, but he is happiest when he can share them with one of us. I’ve watched him blissfully chew a new stick at the park, then look up to see me watching and suddenly; the tail is wagging and over he comes, to show me the absolute awesomeness that is this stick. At home, when we have guests, he’ll run to pick up a toy, wildly wagging his way to the door and shoving a gnawed on stuffie, into their hands. He is so happy to parade his things around, and drop a toy in a lap or two.

I know, he’s a dog. He is simple, and happy to just play, but it makes me wonder; could sharing bring more happiness into our lives, and relationships? Should we be making room to talk to each other about our daily experiences? Think about the kinds of things we share about our days with the people in our lives. It really does feel good to tell someone about something good that happened. How many times after a positive experience have you said to yourself “I can’t wait to tell so and so…”? Although you felt a glow of happiness when the event occured in your day, the retelling of that experience has the ability to increase happiness simply by sharing the awesomeness that was that moment. Like Brian, would the things that brought us a little joy be exponentially increased by sharing that joy? Maybe we should be dropping our most enjoyed moments into the laps of those we share our lives with, after all, Brian really seems to enjoy it.

He loves being outside. Brian is ready to go for a walk at a moments notice, and I think he would stay in the yard indefinitely if I let him. Most days he’s out there for hours, laying alternatively in the sun, then shade, sniffing the air, and napping. He hates to come in. Many times I’ve found myself envious of his lazing in the sun, and head out to join him, just for a few minutes. And it’s just as luxurious as he makes it look. Feeling the sun and wind, and even sometimes the rain on your skin and doing nothing but that for a few moments is actually glorious. Not thinking about work, or your to do list, because Brian certainly isn’t, but JUST. SITTING. I’m starting to think this dog is really on to something…

We also go for walks every day, in pretty much any weather. We’ve braved the bitterest days of winter, got soaked in the rain, and stuck to the shade on hot summer mornings. No matter what the weather, we go. Brian just doesn’t seem to be phased, and over time I have come to feel the same.  I no longer dread the freezing snow, and I love a rainy day.  I have been forced to spend time outside, even if it is just for 20 minutes at a time, so Brian can enjoy some exercise. But this chore has turned into something I enjoy just as much as he does. If he didn’t need to go out, I can say for sure I would not be taking the 20 mins for a walk for myself.  Clearly, we should.  The daily ritual is therapeutic, it gives your brain a chance to quiet (no cellphones) and I have fallen in love with each of our Canadian seasons.   When I get home from a walk my mind feels cleared and almost re-set, ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Is my dog the guru of happiness? Maybe. Does he inherently understand how to obtain happiness? It seems so. Does he bark randomly for no apparent reason? Also yes, BUT! These simple things; getting enough sleep, sharing positive experiences, and taking time to go outside and just be, have certainly contributed to, and continue to contribute a great deal of happy moments to my life. So maybe we could all try to be a little more like Brian, minus the random barking, of course.

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