How would you like to spend 2016 as contented and centered as your dog?
As a psychotherapist, I spend a lot of time dealing with people and our big-brained problems. On most issues, like how to create a telephone that uses 3D touch to show birds catapulting into pigs, we are just brilliant. But we leave a lot to be desired in such areas as how to deal with each other, and how to live…those “human” quandaries!
So a few years back, I started watching my dog, Shirelle, to see how she avoids these problems. And I’ve tried to pass on what I’ve learned.
Now, many people have this idea, that you should only improve your lives once a year, when the calendar changes. A dog would say that’s crazy. If Shirelle found an imperfection in her squirrel-chasing technique in March, she wouldn’t wait ten months to adjust it – but oh well, that’s what makes us human.
Below, I’ve shared some key life lessons for us sapiens as we embark on 2016. Not to improve you so much, as to just make you happier – which, of course, is what dogs crave to their cores.
1. A few more times a day, forget that you have a past and a future.
Wise people will tell you to “live in the moment.” Pooches do that all the time; that’s why no dog ever needed a yoga class. But let’s face it – our jumbo-tron brains are too powerful not to constantly refocus on tomorrow, next summer, and yesterday.
However, we can pause that time-traveling, for moments. Try checking in right now. Treat this second as the only point that exists. What do you have, what do you need (right now, not for dinner or your retirement), what feels good, what hurts? And once you’re done, go back to your regular mind.
Try this a few times a day. If you already do it, add a few more and just see how it resets you.
2. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, more.
Even the least selfish person often has trouble relating to others. How many of us sing about brotherhood, but the second we click onto our beloved social media, rant that anyone who disagrees with us about a tax rate is uglier than a naked mole rat?
When you’re positive someone else’s point of view is evil and insane, try to admit, instead, that we all have similar brains and figure out what led them there. Once you do, you can still disagree with them, but you’ll have lost the unhealthy prejudice.
After all, dogs mostly find us folks incomprehensible, but they still love us and try to follow our thinking. If you can do this same for others, your humility might make you as lovable as…okay, not quite as lovable as Marley, but closer than you are now.
3. Pollute and poison less.
All animals pollute, but humans are the only ones brilliant enough to create materials that don’t serve the earth at all. When you throw a plastic bag out, or dump millions of gallons of toxins into an ocean, you can’t just kick some dirt over it and make your mess okay, the way mutts can.
A dog would suggest, and request, that you simply improve. If you’re a lazy slob, and you just start recycling your beer bottles, that will help things a bit. And if you already re-use paper, save your shower water, and drive an electric car charged by the sun, maybe you could also buy more locally-grown food? Every bit helps!
And just to clarify, animals don’t really notice which individual humans or corporations do the polluting. As far as they’re concerned, all us humans left that trash there, and all us humans haven’t cleaned it up.
So please, go a little out of your pathway and pick up that can, or try to help a river not turn to poison. It’ll make you feel good. And the stray pup out on the street would do it too if he could. Just for the feeling.
4. Find more moments to enjoy and find more to enjoy about more moments.
When you open your front door in the morning, what’s going though your head? Lateness? Upcoming traffic? Some argument you had over breakfast?
You know what goes through a dog’s? The smells! The hit of fresh air with an unexpected temperature! Hundreds of sounds suddenly so clear! And even though her eyes are nowhere near as powerful as yours, millions of things to see!
Do you take in the sky? Do you count the stalks of grass? Do you check to see if there are any squirrels or ants or bees or lizards or even cats in sight?
And that’s only one moment. Each day has 86,400 seconds in it. Do you spend even one just rolling in what is? Or do you rush to media, to hear some pundit tell you whether the day was worth living or not?
Right now, pick a leaf off an interesting tree, look it over carefully, sniff it, run your fingers over it with your eyes closed, and chew it. Feels like being a kid, doesn’t it? Back when you did such things by instinct – the way a pup does all the time.
5. Give yourself just a bit more sleep.
Scientists estimate that dogs sleep twelve to fourteen hours a day on average, which means some snooze a lot more.
I’m not suggesting you go to that extreme, but one reason dogs tend to be so healthy and active is that they grab z’s whenever they can. What if you found a way to go to bed just a half hour earlier tonight? Or to take a nap this afternoon?
Maybe record that TV show, curl up, count sheep, and see what happens to your mood, your skin, your work skills, and even how others treat you.
6. Be silly more – silly for you.
People say dogs are clowns, for the way they act when they see a leash, or the signs of oncoming dinner. But what’s wrong with that?
Silliness isn’t just a part of life; it’s a core of it, a celebration of it. Now, if you’re great at telling naughty jokes at dinner parties, that’s fine. But when’s the last time you ran around in a sprinkler on a hot day? Sang so loud you hurt your vocal cords? Or barked in conversation with a dog?
Here’s my definition of silliness: Any action, the doing of which would normally make you blush in embarrassment. Every silly act actually helps you overcome your fear and shame. Every dog lives it, and any good doctor would prescribe it often.
7. Tell and show those you love that you’re crazy about them more.
Here’s where canines most excel. When you come home at the end of a long day, do you tell your family how happy you are to see them, and that they even exist? What about at your job – do you find ways to express your feelings about your coworkers?
The most common deathbed regrets humans report are not having spent more time with those they love, and not having let them know it. And that’s dumb, because nothing is easier! Just let it out!
Jump on a friend and kiss the top of their head. Yell across a business networking confab, “I have the best assistant in the world!” And call your mother and tell her you’re grateful.
No one can control what the world does to them, but these tools all help making living whatever hand you’re dealt more enjoyable. And, in all my years of watching dogs, if there’s a way to do too much of any of these, I haven’t seen it.
So try them, and good luck. May this be the year your tail learns how to wag!
Douglas Green is a psychotherapist, specializing in helping kids and teens build lives they can be proud of. He is also the creator and writer for AskShirelle.com, which helps kids, teens, parents, and others around the world with advice from the point of view of a friendly dog, and is the author of The Teachings of Shirelle – Life Lessons from a Divine Knucklehead. Learn more about Green at www.CavalleriaPress.com, and connect on