People with pets are an interesting breed. They are quick to whip out their mobile phone to share photos. They are always ready with a story about Fido or Fluffy’s latest antics. Sometimes the joy that pet owners talk about their animals actually trumps their interest in their own children.
It’s a phenomenon of happiness that’s worth exploring.
Pets come in all shapes and sizes — from big and furry to small and feathery — and somehow, without ever saying a word, animals can teach people about life and relationships.
Pets display many of the qualities people look for in human companions.
Pets are loyal, show fierce and unwavering love, forgive easily and hold onto their childlike wonder throughout their lives. In addition to being role models for how to live well, companion animals also increase people’s physical and mental well-being.
Do you know why it is as painful to lose a beloved pet as a human family member (or sometimes even more so)? It’s because of what I call the “pain/gain” and “grief/relief” ratio.
The more positive (gain) we experienced by having them in our lives, the more negative (pain) we feel when they depart. When there is more grief than relief, it takes longer to emotionally heal and recover.
Animals don’t give us grief like fellow humans do, so the grief/relief gap is wider.
Here’s a few of the ways that pets bring on the happiness:
>> They are natural joy makers. It’s easy to see why cat videos are so popular online and why dogs are affectionately called man’s best friend.
Animals are funny, quirky and do the most unexpectedly hilarious things. In fact, dog and cat owners tend to laugh more frequently than those not living with pets.
People can also learn to live a little more like animals in this regard. Be silly, be spontaneous — pets aren’t self-conscious, they are free to be themselves.
>> Pets need us. People have a natural desire to feel needed, and pets can help fill that need with a sense of belonging and self-worth. For those who choose not to have children or are empty nesters, pets can satisfy a need to nurture — building a relationship with a pet can be very rewarding and often leads to increased self-esteem.
>> Pets make people healthier. Having a pet is good for your physical health. In fact, pet owners, especially those with dogs, get more exercise and are generally more active.
Other benefits include decreased blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Best of all, just the act petting an animal releases oxytocin, the “feel good hormone,” into our bodies and helps to relieve stress and anxiety.
>> Pets offer a great deal of potential to give life a jolt of happiness. For those unable to have a pet, volunteering at an animal welfare organization can be mutually rewarding to both people and animals.
Alice Inoue is the founder of Happiness U. Visit yourhappinessu.com.