Dogs can bring us hours and hours of happiness, whether by playing fetch, teaching them tricks, or just cuddling on the couch with them. The love and devotion dogs offer can often help us through even the most difficult of times. Not only that, but did you know that dogs display valuable coping skills that even us humans can use? Well they do! Here are two things that dogs naturally do, which we can use to feel happier:
Live in the Moment
Have you ever seen a dog stressed out because of his plans for tomorrow? Maybe a dog that feels depressed because of a rejection that she suffered a few days prior? No, probably not! Dogs tend to be perfect examples of living in the moment. Whether they are chewing on a bone, playing with a buddy, or going on a walk, dogs just focus on whatever they are doing in the moment. If only us humans could be more like that! How many times have you found yourself involved in what’s supposed to be an enjoyable activity, only to find that your mind was wandering towards worries that you have for tomorrow, next week, or next month? So try this, next time you’re going on a walk, try to focus entirely on one of your senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch). Maybe focus on the things you can see during a walk, or you can choose a few different senses and alternate between them (such as focusing on what you can see, hear, and touch). Interestingly, thinking is not one of our 5 senses! So if you find yourself focusing on any type of thought, just bring your attention back to the sense that you’ve chosen to focus on.
Enjoy the Little Things
Have you noticed how dogs seem to enjoy the simplest of pleasures? I own a 1-year-old Shih Tzu and it’s amusing much she loves a crunchy toy chicken that I bought her. It cost me about a dollar, but that does not seem to matter to her! What does she like so much about this toy? Could it be the sound that it makes when she bites into it? Maybe it’s how it feels on her skin when she lies on it? Or maybe it’s because she knows how hard I had to work to earn that dollar (OK, maybe she’s not thinking that!). On the other hand, think about how difficult it tends to be for a lot of us to feel content. For many it can seem like a nearly impossible task. And yet, aren’t there many things in most of our lives that we can be appreciative of? Gratitude is one of the most useful coping strategies to decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. Here’s a habit to consider: Every night before going to sleep, take out a notebook or a notepad app on your cell phone. Try to think of at least one thing that you are grateful for today (preferably at least 3 things if you can think of them). Just spend 5 minutes or so thinking of and writing about these things you feel grateful for, and why you feel grateful for them. It doesn’t have to be anything big, it can be as simple as a $1 crunchy toy chicken!
So the next time you’re with your dog, give him or her a good belly rub as a way to thank them for modeling great coping skills!