In one of his better quips, Mark Twain said, “The more I know about people, the better I like my dog.” Amen, sir, as there are so many reasons to prefer the companionship of a dog over people, or at least some people. First, you can tell your dog anything – about yourself, your dirty past, your jerk of a boss or ex-wife – and he will never repeat it or hold it against you. It’s also an advantage that you can never embarrass your dog like you can your children, parents, or spouse. I mean, dress dear Fido like a ballerina wearing tights and a tutu, and then post his picture online; he won’t care. Or, you dress like a ballerina wearing tights and a tutu, and post your picture online; he still won’t care.
I love it that my dog never brings up politics, religion, money, or the Middle East at the dinner table. I love it that dogs are clinically proven to improve health and longevity – not something you can say for all of your neighbors – and that they love unconditionally. But most of all, I am happy that dogs teach us to be happy. My family has a furry little pup named “Mo,” a stray, we temporarily took in until he could be permanently placed elsewhere. That was years ago. Mo so effectively wormed his way into our hearts, he became an irreplaceable part of the family.
Now, poor Mo isn’t very bright. In fact, he is as dumb as a box of rocks. Lift one of his ears and look in, and you can see straight through to the other side; I’m talking zero brains. But what he lacks in IQ points, he more than makes up for in sweetness and happiness. Mo wakes up every morning as if he has just won the lottery, boundlessly full of joy at the prospects of another day. He attacks every single meal and gobbles down each treat as if it were filet mignon. He becomes deliriously euphoric when taken for a walk. He greets every newcomer with wet kisses and a wagging tail.
And his favorite thing in the whole world is to crawl into your lap while you drink your morning coffee or beg for a belly rub while watching the evening news. In fact, that’s about the extent of his demands. All he requires is a little affection, and he has no other expectations. Maybe that’s the secret to both canine and human happiness – to find satisfaction in what you have. Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at when he mentioned the “birds of the air” and the “lilies of the field” (or dogs sleeping at the foot of your bed). They don’t toil or spin, sow or reap, fear or worry, because they simply take what life gives them, joyfully.
You can use your time and energy being happy, or you can spend your time and energy chasing – demanding, exacting, expecting, and striving – but never quite being satisfied, never quite getting what you feel you need. I don’t think you can do both at the same time. That is, be happy or be in the pursuit of happiness; for the pursuit of life robs us, so many times, of the enjoyment of living.
Ask yourself this one candid question: How different would your life be if you were truly content with what you have, with the life you have been graced with, instead of being disappointed over what you don’t have? Your answer will reveal that happiness is not something you “try” to find. It is all around you – and within you – if you will only accept it.
No, you don’t have to be very smart to be happy. Here is how: Greet each morning with gusto. Savor the little enjoyments of life, for there are many. Be happy to take a walk or get some exercise. Be kind to those you meet along the way, and love the people around you without reserve or hesitation. That’s a dog’s life, and that’s a good life.