Occasionally, on a very drunken night, I will react to the possibility of pizza in the same way that my dog reacts to the possibility of a doggie treat. Sheer joy. Uncontainable excitement. An inability to stop running around in circles.
Besides that, we also have a shared appreciation for sleeping, but that’s where our commonalities end. The rest of the things that make me happy, or at least, the rest of the things that I think should make me happy, are more human-related and complicated. Of course, love and relationships and family are important to me above all else. I mean that. But also, it’s kind of like, blah blah blah.
I would be lying if I said that I was not also constantly distracted with the idea of obtaining success, approval, wealth, style, appreciation, likes. I’m human, so sometimes I suck. Sometimes I get pulled into the black hole of shallowness, vapidity, and other things that are stupid and meaningless.
My dog, on the other hand, is thrilled when the sprinklers come on. My dog is thrilled when I pick up a stuffed animal and throw it to the other side of the room so that she can run over and get it. My dog is thrilled when I simply look at her and talk in a high-pitched voice. She is overjoyed by a five-minute walk in the neighborhood, or by an excited “Hi, Lily!” when one of us returns from running errands.
She doesn’t need a lot. She is happy about the tiniest things, because she doesn’t have a lot of distractions. Her life is simple. Her possessions include a doggie bed and a jean jacket. I wish I was lying about the latter item, but I’m not. She got it for her first birthday. And you can’t sell a dog’s jean jacket to Plato’s Closet, so we just kept it.
I understand that my dog is an animal. My dog is a being with a brain that is extremely different from a human brain. But that doesn’t deter me from wishing that I could embrace the same carefree, endless, solid joy that my dog exudes on a daily basis.
When I think about what honestly makes her happy, we’re not that different. Sure, I don’t feel the same way about sprinklers that she does, and I’m not interested in humping a chair leg in order to feel aroused, unless I’m incredibly lonely. I’m not fascinated by blow dryers, I don’t get excited by the sound of keys jingling. But I do love being around people that make me feel happy. I can appreciate a good meal and a cozy bed. I love sensing excitement in other people and drinking in the joy that other people feel in certain atmospheres.
I love laying in the sun when it’s warm out. I love being outside or rolling down the window during a fast drive on a clear day. I love when the delivery guy comes to the door. I occasionally threaten to bite people when they come near my food. I love to lay in clean laundry as soon as it comes out of the dryer.
I love plenty of the same things that my dog loves. I can appreciate plenty of the same things that my dog knows, instinctively, to appreciate. I know that few things compare to the warmth of laying against someone you care about. I know that it’s hard to find anything better than waiting by the door to greet someone who means more to you than your own life. But sometimes, I forget to appreciate how much I love these things, these feelings, because I’m too distracted by my image or my bank account or my Twitter feed or my inbox or by anything else that will not matter in five years or two years or three days.
My dog will never experience a lot of the stresses that humans experience, like taxes or debt or societal pressures. My dog will never understand war or suicide or poverty. My dog will probably never have as strong of an emotional comprehension of death as humans experience.
But my dog knows what constitutes a truly joyful life. My dog doesn’t care about appearance and salaries and social media statistics, and she is not missing out on any special moments of life because of that. Her life is simpler, yes. But it’s also easier to make her happy.
It’s impossible to live your life as a dog. It’s impossible to truly not care about anything shallow, whatever that means to you – money, appearance, property, fame, power. But it is possible to breathe, to listen, to pause (I swear, this pun was not intended). It is possible to stop and feel the heat coming off the skin of your boyfriend as you’re laying next to him. It’s possible to breathe in the familiar scent of your mom’s perfume when you greet her after several weeks apart. It’s very easy to sit next to your grandfather and dinner and ask him questions and learn about what it was like when he was twenty-four.
These things will not change your life. They will not cure you of fear or depression or self-doubt or anxiety or greed. You will never have the opportunity to bring your mind down to the level of a dog, nor should you want to. But it is possible to understand the fact that you’re alive, in a very purposeful and conscious way. It is possible to remind yourself to smile about things that are simple. It is not difficult to feel a strong sense of contentedness merely from listening to your brother laugh.
Happiness does not come from achieving a specific ranking or promotion or salary level. It comes from a series of small, barely recognizable moments that are more crucial to your joy than you could ever imagine. You just have to remember to always be looking for them, as if nothing else in your life even mattered. Because it doesn’t.