22 Jul Lessons in Happiness from a Furry Friend
Happiness is a right. We’re born with all the chemicals and connections we need to be happy. Yet so many people struggle with sadness and depression. Man’s best friend may be able to help.
I was walking up the steep path that led away from the beach. Deep in thought, I hardly noticed the woman walking towards me. As they got closer, I suddenly noticed the face of her dog.
He was a short-haired English Labrador—the ones with the big broad head and deep brown eyes. He was a sturdy fellow, in his prime. He bustled along next to his owner, his tail wagging behind him, and his ears slightly cocked in excitement. He held his head close to her knee as they moved briskly down the hill in my direction.
And then it struck me.
It’s hard to forget a face like that. His forehead furrowed slightly as he held his alert eyes wide open. His dark nose sniffed eagerly at everything they passed. And his mouth was wrinkled into a smile that radiated pure, unrestrained happiness! Yes, the dog was smiling. And if you’ve seen a lab like this, you’ll know that it’s a real, unmistakable smile.
And this got me thinking …
For some reason, most of the labradors I have seen have smiled. It may be something unique to the breed, which has a highly affable reputation. It may also have to do with the nature of the species, known as “man’s best friend”. It’s their capacity for joy that impresses me most.
So, I started to think about their neurobiology, and the gift they have which may be the reason for this joyful disposition.
Dogs are early mammals. They precede us human beings on the evolutionary timeline. Before them, the earth’s creatures had very simple brains that were designed for survival. The reptilian brain was fueled by fear. The owner specialized in fight and flight reactions. Not very friendly!
Mother Nature then added the emotional brain. Dogs, along with dolphins and horses, for example were gifted with an emotional brain that overrides their primitive reptilian brains under most circumstances. The emotional brain closes the social gap between individuals, helping them to nurture their young and collaborate with other adults, unlike the snakes and lizards of the world.
So, this beautiful lab was overflowing with social instincts and expressed them readily in his facial expression.
It was my next realization that was really powerful. I was struck by how different this dog’s life was to the life of an average human being. Few of us run around grinning from ear to ear. Why?
Well, in her wisdom again, Mother Nature gifted us humans with yet another mental power. She added thought and reason to our lives. Our enormous cognitive power differentiates us from all other living species. Early mammals have a thin rim of gray matter in their brains, which helps them to be smart. But it’s nothing like the thick, spongy layer of cortex we have in our impressive control centers.
But it’s not all good …
Because so often, we’re our own best enemies. All too often, we are the ones who impose boundaries, seed doubts and fears, and sabotage our own plans. Our powers of thought and imagination are powerful assets when deployed with positivity; but we are highly vulnerable to self-doubt.
So, why are dogs so happy? Because they have enough new brain to get away from the cold life of a lizard, but not enough to get trapped in self-destructive ideation. What a gift. It brings new meaning to the old phrase “it’s a dog’s life”!
What’s my take-home for WHealth Seekers?
First, remember to smile. It’s a powerful tool that drives your own health and happiness, and spreads positive contagion into the lives of others.
Second, take a good look at your life. Are you feeling happy right now? Are you achieving success in the big and important things—family, health, career? If your answer to any of these is “no”, then take your courage in both hands, take a good long look inside your powerful mind, and ask yourself the question … “is there something that I have created, within my powerful cognitive brain that is keeping me from health, happiness and prosperity?” Because I want you happy, and the lesson of my furry friend is that when we remove the fear and doubt that originates in our primitive brain, and is amplified by our cognitive brain, we have the best chance of being happy.
I hope this happy dog inspires you to take action today.