I haven’t always been happy with my life. And I’ve always put my hopes in one thing or another to make myself happier, usually to no avail. For instance, I’ve always thought that changing my surroundings would help. When I was in high school, I thought, going to college will make me happier. I’ll have a new start. No one will know me, and I can begin a brand new happy life. This sort of thinking was pervasive, and it never worked. I wasn’t any happier when I went to college. I wasn’t any happier when I went to grad school. I wasn’t any happier when I got married. I was still me. Changing external forces doesn’t solve internal problems.
But the one exception to this rule was getting a dog. Even though getting a dog is an external force, it most definitely did make me happier. The question is, why?
- Most depressive feelings are self-indulgent and self-centered. What’s wrong with me? Why don’t others like me? Am I fat? Am I stupid? Me, me, me, I, I, I. When you have a dog, you have to take care of it. The focus is on another being. There are two effects. One is that you don’t obsess over you own failings. Or at least, you can’t spend as much time obsessing, because you are forced to care for your dog. The second is the act of caring for another creature is satisfying. You feel important. This helpless creature depends on you for his livelihood. Even if you don’t matter to anyone else in the world, at least you are the most important person in the world to your dog.
Having a dog makes you less uptight. You let go of the small stuff. It’s no big deal that the dog chewed up your glasses case (like Loki did this weekend). It’s still useable, sort of. And even if it weren’t usable, I could just buy a new one. The world isn’t going to come to an end. The little things don’t matter anymore.
You live in the moment. Cesar Milan always touts this point. It’s true. Yun and I have many moments in our daily lives where we drop everything we are doing to look at Loki simply because he is SOOOOOO cute. For just a moment, I forget about all the stressors in my life. I forget about my “to do” list. I forget about past anxieties. For just a moment, I live in the present and enjoy Loki’s beautiful smile.
Having a dog helps you get to know your neighbors. When you own a dog, you have to walk him. For me, walking Loki meant saying “Good morning” and “Hi, how ya doing?” more often. Soon enough, you the same faces over again, and you end up knowing your neighbors and service workers. While you might not be the best of friends with these people, a friendly smile always brightens up anyone’s day. And aside from that, it’s nice to have some sense of belonging in a community.
A dog isn’t a cure all. I’m not a psychiatrist and I’m not prescribing getting a dog as a miracle treatment. A dog is also hard work. Some days Loki’s behavior frustrates me. Some days caring for him adds yet another task on my endless “to do” list. But the net effect is definitely positive.