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Secrets to Happiness-Learned From My Dog

Updated on September 2, 2009

It's been a bumpy road for me at times, and it hasn't always been easy trying to figure out who I am, where I'm going, and how I fit in. I've always been a little self-conscious, and at times absurdly sensitive, and often I feel as if these traits are more of a liability than anything else. It's not easy being introspective, but I also think it's important to rock out the hand you're dealt. It can be exhausting when you're constantly trying to figure out if you're okay, and doing or saying the right things, and sometimes there are moments of freakish bravery when you just let go and have faith it will be okay. It isn't easy, this whole letting go business, but I think relinquishing some of some of that control mongering is healthy and oh so necessary for happiness.

Animals enrich our lives and pet ownership has been widely attributed to increased longevity, lowered blood pressure, and higher levels of life satisfaction. They're also pretty fantastic teachers. I've learned an extraordinary amount of lessons on life and love in the last ten months and have discovered that quite possibly my dog, Zoey, is a lifestyle guru.

Firstly, Zoey does not let anything stand in the way of getting what she wants. Sliding glass door be-damned she will be the first to the backyard every time. She refuses to give up, and is tenaciously determined to get whatever she is pursuing. It's not always easy for her, she's crashed into many objects while trying to out-retrieve other dogs, but I love her spirit and admire her determination. She doesn't hesistate, trying to weigh pros and cons and figure out risk vs. reward. She just goes for it. There is nothing tentative about our gal.

Zoey makes friends with abandon. She is hyper-social and wants to say hello to everyone at the dog park, everyone walking down the sidewalk, and anyone who seems even remotely interested in her is fair game for a greeting. Even dogs that are displaying a distinct "please leave me alone vibe" Zoey sometimes tries to interact with which maybe isn't so great, but I think it's kind of cool that she's always willing to at least try. Our two cats are not Zoey's biggest fans, as she continues to try to win them over, but I hope that one day Harper, Harlow and Zoey will live in harmony, as it certainly can not be attributed to Zoey's lack of trying. In a lot of social situations I find myself getting nervous and awkward, fearful that I'm imposing or not interesting enough to contribute to conversation. That's just silly. Risking a little initial awkwardness should be no reason to put myself on the bench socially. Everyone should be a starter, life's too short to miss out on other's experiences, insights, and perspectives because it's simply easier to be timid.

Zoey is not self-conscious at all. She does what feels good, completely without care about how she may appear to the casual observer. She likes to hold her toys in her mouth, while laying on her back, I'm assuming in an attempt to maximize a nice air-to-belly sensation. Sometimes she leaves an ear rakishly flipped inside out. Her tongue often hangs outside of her mouth at a bizarre angle. More often than not, she takes her stuffed bear outside with her while she is using the bathroom. She is unabashedly silly and I love her for that. I think her ability to let her freak flag fly is quite wonderful and even a little inspirational. She is who she is and I may be biased, but I think she's fantastic.

Our Zoe-beast is not shy about speaking up when she wants something. She lets us know when we haven't played with her enough or if we haven't reached her daily physical activity quota by being barky and even, dare I say, a little obnoxious. When we're running around and she is thirsty she flops down, knocking over our Nalgene bottle as if to say, "Hey you guys! I'm dying here get me some water!" She can be a little pushy, but she sure does get her needs met. She doesn't suffer in silence, and often I find myself wishing I could just say what I want and what is on my mind, without fear of how it may sound. I think a lot of women fall into the trap of wanting to be everything to everyone without taking the time to figure out what it is that they want. Feeling frazzled and pulled in a million directions is no fun. Zoey gives and takes, and I think her quality of life is maximized by her ability to ask for what she needs.

Zoey can be pretty lazy. She clearly enjoys curling up in a comfy spot to recharge her batteries and takes rest breaks frequently throughout her day. Very often we cram so much into our days that there is barely enough time to eat meals, let alone to carve out a couple of minutes of quiet time to reflect and get our bearings. Hectic days are stressful and take a major toll on our health. A study conducted by Expedia found that in 2006 Americans passed up more than 574 million vacation days; it is estimated that less than half of Americans are satisfied with their current work situation. It would seem that millions of people hate their jobs and are working at them too much! No wonder we're so sick and tired collectively. Vacation deprivation may sound like a term coined by travel agencies to boost reservations and revenue, but there is something very worthwhile in taking some time for yourself. Time away makes you a better employee and a happier and healthier individual overall. Be lazy-ish, relax and recharge. Take care of yourself by giving yourself time to reflect and re-examine what makes you happy, and to be thankful for what you have.

Zoey is a perpetual optimist. Every time I reach for something on top of the fridge she believes wholeheartedly that a biscuit is coming her way. She goes through all of her tricks in rapid-fire succession hoping that it will perhaps rain dog biscuits. Often it works out for her, although sometimes it doesn't, in either scenario I believe she thinks in her own way that the universe is good and fair, based solely upon where her dog biscuits are stored. Zoey greets each day with enthusiasm and an open mind. She is as happy to go for a quick walk around the block as she is when we go to a super awesome crazy fun dog park. In Zoey's world, life is good and there is an opportunity waiting at every corner, lamppost, fire hydrant, tree, bush, etc. There is no room for worry or self-doubt, and there is wonder in the most mudane of places.

As time passes, I am sure I will gain even more wisdom from watching and interacting with Zoey. Dogs are fantastic teachers and I'm very blessed to be able to share so many experiences with our silly, rambunctious, fun-loving, and all around inspiring pup. It's not always easy, but I'm learning the value of just being myself, liking what I like unapologetically, keeping a sunny perspective, and just trying to seize every day as a new opportunity to learn and grow, while taking time for myself to breathe and relax a little bit. Zoey needs me and I'm now realizing just how much I needed (and continue to need) her.


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