Want to be happier? Follow your pet’s lead

By Leslie Phelan

Photo credit: Columbia Pictures 2006

Most days, I love my life. I come and go as I please, eat what I feel like, wear what I want to. But then there are some days, while caught in the bustle and stress of everyday life, that I find myself feeling downright jealous of the calm simplicity of the lives of dogs and cats. While I think about rent and dash for the streetcar, the pooches of my neighborhood trot about, chase squirrels and bark merrily without a care in the world (except maybe about where to get the next good butt sniff). While I puzzle over social problems and whether I left my curling iron on, the cats of my world scratch, climb, and observe life with peaceful, placid contentedness. How I envy their mellow existence while I feel the chaos and urgency of all that comes with #independentwoman life. For the most part, though, I’m not complaining, I’m admiring; there is much we could all learn from our pets about how to live more happily.


Dogs are always up for that bit of exercise, whether it’s raining or shining or blizzarding out. Getting fresh air has so many benefits that we sometimes forget when we’re feeling lazy: the calories we burn and the clarity we feel after leaving the cave to go out into nature are so essential to our well-being! Getting outside and moving around can be the best prevention and cure for those down days, which is basically just your body feeling the stagnation of your spirit.

Naps  IMG_7332

Nothing beats the delightfully revitalizing splendor of a good kip! Dogs and cats nap every day, sometimes several times a day. Obviously, it isn’t always possible to take a siesta but if you can, try to fit a wee snooze in if you’re lagging. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance. Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison are all known to have valued a good afternoon nap. Not to make lofty comparisons, but I know I’m definitely more productive in my waking hours if I feel rested. What if napping was the key ingredient to these lives of vast achievement?

Living in the moment

Do you think your dog ever wastes precious time and energy regretting things or longing to be elsewhere? Think your cat lets its brain cloud up making grand plans for the future? No way! Whatever they happen to be doing, they are giving themselves to it fully, even if it is something as simple as sharpening claws on a door or gnawing on a bone to get to the marrow. They apply themselves to their current activity, giving it their undivided love and attention. No multi-tasking here! Attention and memory can suffer when one attempts to spread themself too thin, so we should all take a cue from our pets and carry out our duties and activities one at a time, being present, and putting our whole heart in it.

Giving affection

When a pet loves someone, they show it. They use body language, licks and nudges to demonstrate how they feel, and since we know they are incapable of feigning it, we take it at face value and give it right back, holding back nothing. This could perhaps be the most important thing we can learn from our animals, because affection strengthens relationships and fosters connectedness with others, be they human or otherwise. After all, isn’t that what life is about?