It’s official – pets make us happy

Studies show that owning a pet can increase self esteem, develop social skills and help people make friends. Families with pets tend to feel closer and play together more often.

A strong bond with a pet has all sorts of benefits to health and emotional wellbeing. Studies with elderly people showed that owning a cat reduces anxiety, loneliness, depression and hypertension. Another study showed that pet owners have a better chance of survival after being hospitalised for heart problems.

When their owners are suffering, dogs can be very gentle and comforting. Cats, too, tend to pick up when a person needs sympathy and will cuddle up and purr, when normally they enjoy their independence. Pets can be so perceptive at picking up when their owner needs comforting that some have actively prevented suicide.

For all that we humans think we’re the top of the evolutionary chain, we have a lot to learn from the simple, loving ways of a well-cared for pet.

Financial relief in an emotional time

Recently a student friend of mine was devastated when her partner, who lives in another town, was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The ensuing few weeks have necessitated a lot of travelling back and forth to be by his side, as well as many phone calls and texts to let people know of his progress. All this has added financial pressure on top of her emotional burden.

Fortunately her friends have stepped up, one spontaneously topping up her phone by $50 and another offering petrol money to help with travel. Their generosity and support was greatly appreciated, especially as it came quite unexpectedly.

Gut Feelings and Intuition

When making a decision, do you go with your gut? Many people confuse gut feelings with ‘intuition’, when in fact they’re two different things.

Gut feelings come easily and naturally – they’re your body’s pre-programmed response to stimuli that you’ve encountered before. Candace Pert’s book ‘Molecules of Emotion’ explains how our body chemistry works to give us habitual emotional responses that may or may not be helpful to us. Generally speaking, if you make a decision in the grip of a strong emotion, it’s likely to be a bad one. Gut feelings lead you to repeat history, keeping things the same.

Intuition, on the other hand, is emotionally neutral. It’s a skill that can be learned and honed, and it comes from clearing our minds of personal reactions and allowing an inner voice to speak to us. In ‘Stop Thinking, Start Living’, Richard Carlson calls this our ‘healthy functioning’. In ‘Anatomy of the Spirit’, Caroline Myss calls it the ‘impersonal mind’. Intuition is a special wisdom that comes from a still, calm place within. It nudges us towards fulfilment and happiness.

For those who aren’t sure how to achieve this, Suzy Welch describes a simple decision-making method in her book, ’10-10-10′. The idea is to consider how the decision will affect you after 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years, taking into account your values and how you’d feel about the outcomes.

Recently my intuition was telling me to get out of my comfort zone. I needed to do something scary, like a bungy jump. Of course my gut reaction was: no way! I used the 10-10-10 process, which confirmed that although the first 10 minutes would be terrifying, the longer term result would be good for me.

So yes – I did it, and haven’t looked back.

The Little Things

Let’s not forget to notice the little things that people do for one another every day. Here are a few things I’ve witnessed people doing for each other recently:

Buying lunch as a thank you
Making coffees for workmates
Baking a birthday cake
Preparing a meal for friends
Organising a farewell party
Giving away fruit and homemade foods
Paying compliments
Lending a listening ear
Giving waterproof pants to someone who had to bike in the rain