7 Things You Can Learn From Dogs To Become Happier

Ash Jurberg

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My dog, Rocky, has never been happier. Every day he is surrounded by humans. For the last few years, he was left alone each day, sadly looking out the window by the front door when we left for work in the morning and waiting patiently for our return.

Now in the world of the new normal, his life has never been better. Where I live, we have been effectively in lockdown for six months, so his humans have been home 24/7.

While I have been moping or sad, he has always been happy. And having had a lot of time to reflect and observe him — once you’ve watched all of Netflix there isn’t much else to do — I have found that I can learn from him.

In fact, humans, as a whole, can learn from dogs. So here are seven lessons that we can all take from dogs and implement into our own lives to become happier and improve our mental health.

1. They move on without hard feelings

Rocky likes to chew. Occasionally one of us will leave our shoes within reach, and he will pounce on the opportunity, drag the shoe to his bed and tear it to pieces. We have tried to get him to stop his chewing habit, but sometimes he relapses. When he is caught, we admonish him and put him outside.

He slinks off in shame, head down low, knowing he has let himself and his owners down. He might find a tree to hide under.

When we let him in, even if it’s a few minutes later, it is like the admonishment never happened. He bounds in, happy and excited ready to lick our faces. The shame is forgotten.

Rocky has also forgiven us for desexing him. Now that is forgiveness!

The takeaway:

Move on from negative experiences. Let go of past regrets. We need to learn from our mistakes, but we can’t have them rest on our shoulders indefinitely.

2. They live life to the fullest

It is pouring rain. The temperature is close to freezing. We are driving down the freeway at seventy miles an hour. I have the car heaters on as high as they can get.

Rocky has his head out the window. It can’t be enjoyable. It must be so damn cold. But Rocky doesn’t care. It’s a car ride; he is out of the house and seeing the world. He wants to take it all in, not only the sights but the sounds and the smells. With the window closed, he wouldn’t get the full experience of using all his senses.

Professor Chris Daniels, a zoologist from Adelaide Zoo, says:

“This is something that a dog chooses to do, or not to do, and it does it for no other reason than it feels good, so in that sense, they are like us … they can do things for the love of it.”

We can follow this example and do things, just because they feel good.

The takeaway:

Stick your head out the window. I don’t mean literally when you are driving, but metaphorically. Make the most of every experience. Immerse yourself. Think of how much more you will enjoy things with the window open and your head out.

3. They express emotion

When a dog likes something, it is self-evident — their tail wags madly. When they like someone, they run up to them, perhaps jump on them and often go to lick their face.

Dogs want humans to know they are loved. There is no hiding their feelings. Humans, on the other hand, often mask their true feelings.

When I was single and met a person I liked, the mantra was always to play it cool. Don’t show interest at all. “Treat them mean, to keep them keen.” At the time I followed this. I never replied to texts, took several days to call a potential partner back.

Why? This is such rubbish. If I could go back to my college days and give myself advice, I would say, “show your emotion, if you like someone tell them.”

I would also say buy shares in Apple and Amazon, that would really help me now!

The takeaway:

Tell people how you feel whether it is a partner, a relative or a friend. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t play silly games.

4. They act like everything is a first

“Who wants to go for a walk?”

Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!

Rocky gets into a frenzy at this question. It is something he does numerous times a day now we are in lockdown. Yet every time it’s like the first time.

There isn’t much variance in a dog’s life, but they take such enjoyment from their daily activities.

The takeaway:

Life is a little repetitive at the moment. So we need to find joy where we can, even in the small actions that we do all the time. I make sure my morning coffee is enjoyed in the sun, without my phone and by myself. I can enjoy the peace and the caffeine and learn to appreciate this simple act each day.

I treat each sip of my coffee as if it is the first.

5. They are always loyal

The best example of loyalty I have heard (and there are many) is of Hachiko, the dog. His owner Hiesaburo Ueno was a professor at the University of Tokyo.

Every day Ueno would go to Shibuya Station to take the train to work. Every morning, Hachiko walked with his owner to the station and returned each afternoon at 3 pm to walk him home.

Unfortunately one day, Professor Ueno suffered a brain haemorrhage at work and died. Hachiko was obviously unaware and returned to the station that afternoon to meet his owner. He continued to do this every day at 3 pm until he died — ten years later. Now that is loyalty. He never knew where his owner went or if he had been abandoned, yet every day returned in the hope of his return.

There is now a statue at Shibuya station of Hachiko. This dog has become a symbol of loyalty in Japan.

The takeaway:

Stick by your friends and family through the good and bad times. Make sure you are their Hachiko.

6. They don’t overthink things

Rocky is no brain surgeon. Even for a dog, he is on the lower end of the intelligence scale. He, therefore, doesn’t analyse things and focus on why they are being done.

When he was desexed, he didn’t relate this to something he had done. He didn’t think it was because we were terrible humans. He just accepted it for what it is. Sure he licks that region a lot. A lot. But he doesn’t think about what might have been.

Things happen, and he rolls with it. This has been hard for me to take onboard personally, but it is one thing to work on. If something terrible has happened, the reaction is to analyse it endlessly and then try and apportion blame. Either on myself or others.

The same goes for the future. Too often, we are hampered by what may happen. If I do x, then y will occur. But what if z also happens. Life isn’t a mathematical equation to be solved.

The takeaway:

Life isn’t meant to have every single minute detail analysed and pored over. Not everything needs to be for a reason. Don’t overthink things. Don’t look back on what has happened. Don’t look forward and think — what if.

Just do.

7. They take comfort in any surroundings

Rocky can sleep anywhere. On the hot dirt baking in the sun. Halfway up our stairs with his heading poking between the bannisters or balancing on the edge of a bench. Wherever my partner or I am, he will come close and often sleep.

It is not the physical layout that makes him comfortable; it is the fact that one of his family is nearby. The surroundings don’t matter — as long as the people he loves are near him — that’s all he cares about.

The takeaway:

We may not always be able to be in the place we most want to be. Maybe that’s on vacation or out of the office or in a cafe. But the four walls around us are not what matters — it is who we are with. So even if we are stuck at home or prevented from travelling, we can appreciate the people who are with us.

Rocky lives a happy, stress-free life. Yes, he is a dog and has different priorities and inferior intelligence. But we can learn so much from his attitude and implement aspects into our own lives.

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