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4 Things That Dogs Can Teach Us About Happiness

4. Don’t park your happiness in the future.

Key points

  • Don’t park your happiness into the future; instead, find ways to be content with what you have.
  • Be playful and make time for things you find intellectually or physically fun.
  • Find joy in routine by finding nuggets of happiness in ordinary moments throughout the day.

As I sit here with our beautiful fluffy dog, I am reminded that dogs are incredible bundles of fun, and I am wondering what we can learn from them. Dogs are adventurous, curious, and playful, and they find happiness in basic things—a squeaky plastic chicken toy, a cozy blanket, or autumnal leaves falling in the wind. Dogs love play and fun, and their emotions range from the contentment of pawing at their doggy blanket before nesting to wagging their tails ecstatically and coddling you with hugging paws and licks when you get home.

In a world in which the pursuit of happiness is complicated by consumerism, materialism, and the politics of rage, what can humans learn from dogs about happiness?

Embrace contentment.

Learning to be content is a curious skill to acquire, especially in an individualistic society where social and material rewards often result from being competitive, hungry, and ambitious. However, in the process, people often forget to be content about the most basic and fundamental aspects of life, such as sunshine after a week of rain, or the cozy comforts of hot cocoa at your desk as you work. Dogs may have lived with humans for centuries, but they seem not to have forgotten how happy they should be that they have a nice meal or a warm blanket. Have you ever seen your dog poke its nose at food that it wants to keep for later, or scratch at a blanket to obtain maximum coziness? Or have you ever seen your dog ecstatically happy about playing with a super simple toy day after day, with no sign that the toy is any less a source of joy? Think about how you can be content about basic things in life by thinking about them and savoring them, just like a dog does.

Find joy in routine.

Dogs love routine, and they like to have clarity about what usually happens through the day and what sorts of signs mean that good stuff is on the way — like the outdoor leash signaling a happy walk is on the way. Although humans sometimes feel as though spontaneity is a good thing, make some room for routine in your life. Dogs like to know what to expect and they like a sense of repetition in what happens around them, giving them comfort and certainty. Wake up early and sleep at fixed times. Make work enjoyable, if you can, by adding things to it that you enjoy—such as some background music and quick breaks that involve sitting in your garden or looking outside the window. Savor delicious meals that you enjoy and make time in your day for enjoyable aspects of your routine, such as listening to music, exercising, reading something you enjoy, or watching some good television.

Make time for play.

Many people spend their free time in ways which, in retrospect, they probably find wasteful, such as time on social media, which research shows can make people feel anxious and depressed. Ask yourself what you would do if you knew that there was going to be an apocalypse tomorrow. Would you spend today browsing social media, or would you go out for a walk somewhere breathtakingly beautiful? Add a “seize the day” frame of mind to each day, just like dogs do. For humans, play can involve physical exercise or intellectual exercise (e.g., reading a good book, being engrossed in a hobby, or laughing with other people). Discover what you enjoy doing as play, and make time for it every day.

Carpe diem.

Dogs don’t park their happiness into the future and say to themselves, “Well, I’m busy right now but I will be happy after I achieve X, or I will wait until I get Y to be happy.” No, dogs seize the day, so try to live a life in which carpe diem is a part of your philosophy. Dogs get on with each moment by seizing happiness wherever they can find it, and look for unlimited opportunities to wag their tail and be joyful.

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