Finding happiness in the small moments of joy with your pet

When times are hard, we can still find joy with our pets. 

Close-up of a happy dog's mouth with a ball.
Carpe sphera? Photo: Violacelous/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Sometimes when you turn on the news it just feels like everything is… too much. 

Like right now when I was browsing the news on Twitter, there was so much bad news from here and everywhere. With the pandemic ploughing on and the climate crisis revving up, it feels like we are stuck with more of this (without a lot of hard work to change it).

But then I glanced out of the window, where the trees have grown so tall I can no longer see the sky from this vantage point, and five yellow warblers were flicking from branch to branch, little flashes of yellow amongst the green, hopping and flitting and then flying to the next tree. 

They are just going about their day and yet it brings me joy to see them.

Which brings me to these lines from a poem that I came across on Maria Popova’s Brainpickings. They are from Jane Hirshfield’s The Weighing

So few grains of happiness

measured against all the dark

and still the scales balance.

Popova calls this an “ode to resilience.” She writes that what Hirshfield explores in this poem is that,

“Perhaps the deepest measure of our character, of our very humanity, is how much we go on giving when what we most value is taken from us — when a loved one withholds their love, when the world withdraws its mercy.”

In the face of constant bad news, resilience has never been more important. And while we know that there can be downsides to having a pet, hopefully there are also many moments of joy. 

Those everyday small moments are worth savouring. Especially at times when your dog or cat has either a momentary, maddening lapse, or some kind of longer-term behaviour issue, it’s important to remember the things you love about them too.

Think about the things you love, the moments that bring you joy, and the pleasure you take in the things that bring them joy.

A tabby cat sprawled on a bed in the sunshine, showing his tummy
Photo: Tarasenko Andrey/Shutterstock

The joy of feeling your pet’s fur and the weight of their head on your arm or leg. Or, when you lie on your side at night, the cat snuggling into you and purring softly. (Thank you, Melina).

The joy of a cat sprawled out on a rug, showing their tummy to the sun through a window. (Harley).

The joy of a dog flinging their favourite rope toy around, or bouncing up and down at the return home of their person. (For a little dog, it’s amazing how high Pepper leaps).

(I still miss how, when I was working at my desk, Ghost would come and put his big, heavy head on my arm and blink at me with his ice-blue, almost white, eyes. I would have to stop what I was doing to see what he wanted).  

(And I also miss seeing Ghost tap-dancing with impatience and delight when he saw some of his favourite people walking towards him). 

(And the sheer joy with which Bodger would run around the room with his rope in his mouth).

(Even past moments of joy bring more happiness in their memories, it seems).

All these things are worth savouring.

I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t do anything about those terrible things in the news. We absolutely should get vaccinated, wear a mask, vote and act with issues like climate change and systemic racism etc. in mind, in order to enjoy more moments of joy.

But we have to take care of ourselves in the process. 

If you’re having a hard time, or a hard time with your pet, remember to notice those moments that bring peace and happiness. Savour them, and make more of them if you can.

Some dog trainers and animal behaviourists (myself included) always make a point to ask not only, what are the issues you want to work on with your pet, but also why do you love them? What do you enjoy about them?

Because it helps to see the whole picture, to weigh the good with the bad.

And when coming up with a plan for a behaviour issue, it helps to make sure to protect the good, to make more of it even, as part of the plan.

Sometimes we get in a routine with our pets and it’s easy to stop paying attention, to get sucked into other things. But your pet is still there, entirely reliant on you for their moments of joy—and it’s so much fun to be able to provide them. 

What are the small moments with your pet that make you happy?

See also: Why dogs' happiness, not obedience, is what counts.

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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