So we know about our partnerships and our friendships as big returns on our investment in terms of happiness. But what's cool to know is that our pets can have just as strong an impact on our mood and sense of fulfillment as our human relationships can.
News flash: Pet owners are less stressed, have higher self esteem, are more fit, less lonely , and have overall healthier social and relationship lives. That's a ton of great stuff!
About a decade ago I had moved to a brand new city and didn't know a soul. It felt hard to make friends. Where would I start? I looked for local MeetUp groups or running clubs, but nothing quite clicked immediately. Soon enough I was on Craigslist searching for a dog to adopt. I felt he'd help me get out of the house every day and plus I'd have an excuse to hang out at the dog park right out my window and potentially meet new people from my neighborhood.
How I ended up with my skinny, anxious, now 12 year old JackChi named Carlin is a story for another day, but I've loved how having him has made me feel at home no matter where I've gone. He's been a wonderful excuse to explore my new neighborhoods and notice details of my environment I wouldn't have if I didn't have a reason to take strolls both near and far 3-4 times a day. Not to mention that I end up meeting and becoming familiar with just about every other dog owner in the vicinity before long.
So how do you feel when you’re out walking your dog? How do you feel when you’re watching your cat do something funny? What about that sense of peaceful connection when you're petting them, or that cozy feeling when they’re in your lap at night while you're watching Netflix on the couch?
Amazingly, studies show that people receive as much support from their pets as they do from family members, and are able to feel extremely close to their pets. One study I read a long time ago noted that hugging and petting your dog for 10 minutes a day was the equivalent of an hour in therapy… Which of course isn’t great for my practice to broadcast, but I felt I should share that!
Don't have a pet? Take 5 to Google some funny cat memes or silly dog videos on YouTube -- your spirits are bound to be lifted almost instantaneously. Don't or can't have a pet but wish you could? Offer to pet sit for your friends when they go out of town; volunteer to walk dogs or care for cats at the local Humane Society; or simply stroll to your nearest dog park and watch the hilarious antics that ensue when a Chihuahua tries to chase down a Great Dane.
And if you do have a pet, pencil in some quality time to scratch them behind the ears and plant a kiss on their furry heads and let them know they're loved as much as they love you... and you know how much they love you because if they're anything like my dog, they follow you on your heels everywhere you go! Will I ever be able to go to the bathroom without him waiting outside the door whining!? I can dream.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial 15-minute consultation.