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Next Time You’re Complaining, Think Like a Dog

Personal Perspective: Life can be about joy—no matter what we might face.

Key points

  • We often see examples of victimhood on social media and in the news—people who define themselves by their turmoils and trumpet them loudly.
  • Family pets can be excellent mentors for living with more presence, gratitude, and authenticity while navigating life’s challenges.
  • When catching ourselves complaining, think of a three-legged dog, who is present and joyful despite the circumstances they’ve encountered.

Many of us have already realized that our family pets can often be our best mentors when it comes to living with more presence in every moment—not to mention being our authentic selves and loving unconditionally. But as this new year is dawning, and we remind ourselves to do less complaining and live with more gratitude, we can also look to dogs for another helpful reminder.

Like many of you reading this, I often find myself getting caught up in the angst of the everyday. So many things demand our attention—our phones, computers, TVs, and even friends and family. Add a would-be disaster or two to the mix (whether happening to us directly or something we become enraged about after reading or watching the news), and we all have the potential to come undone. And this is to say nothing of financial, physical, or medical ailments that can suddenly remind us of how fragile our world—and even our lives—are.

We see examples of victimhood all the time on social media (friends who lament about everything they’re going through on Facebook, for example), the news (politicians who gripe about witch hunts when they’ve clearly brought much of the hullabaloo surrounding them on themselves), and in the mirror. That’s right. Even you and I have the potential to catch ourselves living life with a “glass-half-empty” mentality—quick to list our complaints to anyone who asks rather than tell people what’s good in our lives. (And yes, no matter what we might be going through, there are always positive things that can be acknowledged.)

At moments like these, when catching ourselves complaining and listing why we’re miserable (as if we’re in a contest to win “most troubled of the month”), I suggest thinking of a three-legged dog, who for one reason or another has had one of his or her legs amputated. As someone who volunteers his time with animal rescue groups, this is something I see fairly regularly (with both dogs and cats). And for anyone reading this who has a canine, you have likely seen a three-legged dog if you’ve taken your pooch to a dog park in recent years.

Think about that three-legged dog you might have seen. I bet he or she was playing. Chasing. Digging. Provoking. Cuddling. Drinking water. Watching cars. In other words, doing just about everything except bemoaning not having as many limbs as other dogs in the park. A three-legged dog never approaches its owners with a victim mentality. Even without the gift of speech, these dogs with amputated limbs communicate joy. Happy as can be. Never limited by whatever circumstances they’ve encountered up till then.

The same is true with cats and kittens who might not have use of their hind legs and have to drag themselves to move or play (and have to rely on kind humans to “express” them several times a day since they can’t go to the bathroom on their own). And yet, I’ve seen these beautiful creatures playing with toys, accepting belly rubs, and purring voraciously. No complaints. No constant listing of the trials they’ve lived through.

I challenge anyone who’s met a three-legged dog or pet to think of an exception. These are happy animals who are dedicated to living their lives to the fullest. No need to announce they’re different. That they’re missing a limb. Or that they’ve lived through trauma before this moment.

So why do we, as humans, feel the need to post, announce, or discuss whatever challenges we might be going through with anyone who asks how we're doing? Of course, we can discuss important issues with close friends or a therapist when it has the potential to lead to problem-solving, acceptance, and inner growth. But otherwise, we’re just trumpeting our losses to anyone who will listen—spreading more fear, anxiety, and regret into the world.

Life can be about joy—no matter what we might be facing or going through. Following the lead of a three-legged dog doesn’t mean we are ignoring our circumstances, just that we’re choosing to live our best lives no matter what else is going on. Imagine the example we’d be setting for others—whether family members, children, work associates, friends, or even strangers. Suddenly, we could be a three-legged dog in human form, with or without all our limbs. Accepting. Happy. Joyful. Present. (And for this, we'd definitely deserve a treat!)

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