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5 lessons for happiness from my dog

Why search for self-help books and podcasts when just observing a dog can teach you all you need to know about life

My dog makes friends everywhere. He is often rejected, sometimes even bitten, but still, he keeps at it. (Unplash)

By Riddhi Doshi

LAST PUBLISHED 03.08.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

When my pup sees soft, red earth he lies in it, when he sees grass, he rolls in it. When it starts raining, my excited two-year-old Dogo Argentino will run up and down the same hill several times, and when the roads are filled with potholes he hunts for frogs in them.

We play fetch with stones, tug with broken coconut leaves, and spin with a twig or a leaf or whatever else we find on the road. Khal Dogo finds treasures everywhere, and then, he expresses excitement like he stumbled upon a gold mine. Perhaps stray pebbles, and not gold, are the secret to happiness.

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Khal is not just my greatest source of joy but also the best happiness coach I could ask for. Everyday, he tells me in his own way that the pursuit of happiness is really very simple. Express your love, enjoy your own company, make new friends with whomever and wherever you can, and appreciate the smaller things in life, and in general, just keep it simple. Here's how.

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Express your love
This is, perhaps, the hardest for us humans. We bottle up, not just our frustration, anger and anxiety, but also our urge to receive affection, help and love from someone or express it. How often do you tell your partner that you want to hold his/her hand? Have you ever hugged your father? Do you tell your mother that she is really important to you?

Khal does it every day, sometimes several times a day. Every time I enter the house, even if it’s after being away for just a few minutes, Khal will run to greet me, like he is seeing me after ages. When he wants to be petted, he will keep nudging my hand with his nose, push himself against my legs or lick my ears, hair, fingers, toes, nails, whatever is accessible, unless I give in. This vulnerability of a large-size Mastiff, known as one of the most ferocious dogs ever, makes me love him a little more every day.

Taking a leaf out of his book, I have become more generous at reaching out, complimenting people, thanking them for their help, and expressing my concern for them. It feels nice to be good to people.

Make friends, despite rejection
As we grow old, it becomes harder to make friends. We build walls around ourselves, stop smiling at strangers, and sometimes let our ego get the better of us.

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But Khal makes friends everywhere, especially with street dogs. Wherever we go, he attempts to sniff the other dogs in the area, even if they are barking at him. He will do his prominent play-bow (when a dog's forelegs are bent, and they look like they are ready to leap into pl) to initiate a game of chase, or just follow them around. He is often rejected, sometimes even bitten, but still, he keeps at it. When his friend Whisky, who used to accompany Khal on all his walks, relocated to a different city, I was scared that Khal may never find other dogs to play with. But he is more resilient than I thought. Today, he has dogs licking him, playing with him and following him around at all the three trekking spots we frequent in our vicinity.

Thanks to him, I too have made friends with the regular morning walkers, other pet feeders, walkers and parents across all age groups. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile or a polite greeting. Khal has taught me that.

The way Khal finds joy in the smallest things in life, including in hopping in or over a puddle of water, has made me shift my perspective in how I understand my life in relation to things around me. (Unsplash)

Enjoy your own company
If not a ball, it's a broken broom, or a shoe, or a piece of cloth, or a stick. Khal always finds something to play with and is a master at entertaining himself. Sometimes, he pushes the ball with his nose and then runs behind it to catch it. I love how he enjoys his own company and finds ways to engage himself.

These may look funny when observed, but such small acts of his have also taught me something. Now, sometimes, I dance alone in front of a mirror. Or in silence, write in my diary. I go for a long walk without agenda, or to nearby park to watch the world go by, and I take myself to movies. Slowly, I am learning to entertain myself rather than wait for someone else to accompany me.

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Appreciate the little things
On a cool day, Khal lounges in a spot of sunlight like it's the greatest ever luxury. When out on a walk, his interaction with dry grass, the way he steps on wet earth, or even the joy he find in hopping in or over a puddle of water, has taught me to shift perspective on how I have understood my life in relation to things around me.

I had often complained about the location of our home, so far away from the everything we've known, loved, and found convenient in city. But today, after I've observed Khal for over a year, I appreciate the outskirts more. I see that now I only dodge stray branches and bushes on a walk and not honking vehicles and though the mall isn't close, I can go on hikes nearby.

Keep it simple
For Khal, it's eat, sleep, poop, play, repeat. As humans, we can’t keep it that plain, but we can at least attempt to simplify some things. Why break the bank for a fancy purse, why buy goods on EMI, why prioritise work over our wellbeing or people we love, and why spend a huge chunk of our salaries on curing work-related stress? Can we do what we like and learn to live within your means?

I chose to be a freelancer, earning less than half of what I made in my full-time job. I may not be able to afford a fancy car or a vacation, but what's most important is that I don’t feel like escaping life any longer—I regularly choose monsoon treks over networking events, home-cooked meals over parties to keep up with the Joneses, and Kathak classes and playtime with my dog with the rest of my time. It has decluttered my life.

Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent