Happiness Lessons from my Dog
While perusing the bookstore, I encountered a book called “The Happiness Project.” It’s a catchy blue color and looks fascinating, though I didn’t even touch it. I did, however, pick up a copy of it’s counterpart, “The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal: A Five Year Record.” I thought, ‘this is perfect! For someone else to try… I’ll buy it for my Dad for Father’s Day.’ Projects and I have a long history of disappointment and hardship. In the past, a “project” has been something I’ve picked up for a day and then cried about not completing by day two. It’s a set up for me to fail and feel badly about myself.
I’m not knocking “The Happiness Project,” especially since I don’t really even know what lies inside the book as I did not open it. What did occur to me is that happiness is important to me, I counsel clients on issues of happiness, sadness, and all things in between, and I could make my own project to learn more about it. I sat in a session just last week where I talked for maybe 3 minutes straight about a dear client and her “goals of happiness,” only to realize that she was looking at me like I was speaking Portuguese. She sort of picked up some of my words because she understood a hint of Spanish, but really, I was speaking a foreign language. I realized that in our culture, and especially in my field, we focus so much on avoiding bottom that we don’t think about the attainment of happiness. Thus, the personal exploration begins…
When I think, ‘what is happiness?’ I picture myself floating on a raft in the middle of a pool, surrounded my all my loved ones. Yes, a happy thought, but perhaps not the most attainable goal. (Here’s the part where I try to set myself up for success ;) I decided to take inspiration from my dog, a happy, barking, digging, sleeping, playing, napping, chasing, eating creature named Truman. Truman is a fine example of happiness. His life isn’t difficult, he loves almost everything, so he became the perfect sample.
Lesson One: Up With the Sun
Truman wakes up with a bound when he is done with his “nightly nap,” as we call it. He requires about 14 hours of sleep per day, but attains most of them during human waking hours. I will admit, I tend to want to sleep as much as Truman but haven’t been able to find a job that will allow me to sleep while working, so I have adapted. This morning I woke up when Truman rolled onto my face and licked me instead of pushing him off the bed. We both put on some shoes and went for a walk.
Lesson Two: Use Your Body
When Truman wakes, he wants to start moving. My body wants to sit at the computer, chug coffee, and stare miserably for an hour until I wake up. This is a long-standing habit that I have developed over the years, but I wonder if it might change if I start a new habit.
Did you know that in the morning everything is almost the same but not as hot? Our walk was full of discovery as I remembered what it felt like to be outside without sweating, I learned that it had rained some time in the early morning, and that other people in my neighborhood also walk around in the morning. Truman greeted them, so I greeted them as well. We talked, played, ran, walked, and came home.
Lesson 3: Feed Your Body
I spend a significant amount of time deciding what kind of food to feed Truman, but not myself. I scan the natural pet store for the food most perfect for my dog’s health – no “by-products,” no “meal,” etc. – I wondered why I don’t do the same for me. Instead of going straight for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch like usual, I chose a yogurt, strawberries, and water for breakfast as Truman lapped his newest organic, pure, natural, non-by-product meal with a few drops of fish oil to encourage a healthy coat of fur. I’m going to have to up my game on the food.
Lesson 4: Seek Love and Affection
What does Truman do next? He goes to my sleepy husband for affection. He is told, “nooooo.” He jumps off the bed, runs to me, and gives me his ‘pick-me-up-and-pet-me’ eyes. I do. He is happy.
I know that if I were to hug my husband he would not tell me ‘no,’ but it occurs to me the purity in asking for attention. How often do I solicit the love of another during the day? Truman must do it at least 100 times every day and he is un-phased by rejection. He wants love and attention, and he will have it. No shame in asking. If I’m rejected, on to the next human. That other human will love me later.
Lesson 5: Play
As I write, Truman is playing with a toy about the size of a golf ball that talks to him as he tosses it around. It says things like, “look alive,” “way to go puppy,” and “oh, you got me!” in a Gremlin-esque voice. It’s pretty creepy and it drives us crazy, but he is happy. He is playing with something that makes him happy.
In human terms, I think I’ll call this, “find something you like every day.” Today, I have found a song that I like and I am playing it over the sound of the Gremlin. (It’s called Dance If You Want To, by Rose Cousins if you would like to listen along.) The song makes me happy, and I’m playing.
Lesson 6: Bark and Know Your Place
Truman is a wee one, weighing in at 11 lbs. When he encounters a dog who is ten times his size, he plays just the same as he would with a cricket. Unfortunately, the “playing” doesn’t always end up in the cricket’s favor, but all the same, Truman sees himself as equal. He wants to know, smell, taste, feel, and be with all things. Plants, animals, people of all ages, sizes, shapes, and colors. He speaks the language of love and affection with all other things. It’s a funny thought to have the same interest in my couch, for example, that Truman does. He jumps, smells, walks around, rubs his fur on it, and circles until finding the right spot for his nap.
I think of Truman’s other favorite activity, barking, and immediately conjure an image of what it means for me to bark. Bark means pay attention. Bark means speak up when you see something, whether you’re curious, disagree, or you’re happily affirming what you hear or see. Bark means use your voice. To bark, for me, is to know I am equal, that I have a voice, and that I have a right to my opinions, feelings, and life.
As always, take care.