How to lead a good life, from an unlikely source

There’s no doubt about it, we’re not all going to agree on what constitutes a “good life”. Some people will measure a good life in terms of good health, some in terms of their wealth, some in terms of the strength of their circle of family and friends, and some by personal accomplishments. Others will measure a good life by the fulfilment they feel from contributing to making the world a better place, however small that contribution may seem. The list is long. As has become abundantly clear recently, we’re never all going to agree on what making the world a better place means, but hopefully we can all agree that making others feel good helps us feel good, too. That’s a good starting point. In fact, in Cynthia Reyes’ excellent blog post today, she makes the point that when life brings you disappointments and you struggle to get past them, helping others is one thing that can lift you up.

It turns out that the real experts on the definition of a good life are dogs. I hate to have to admit this, because I am a lifelong cat person. However, one cannot argue with the truth. This particular truth is illustrated by a story that has been widely distributed across the Internet, whose original author appears to be unknown. It concerns a family whose family dog was dying of cancer.  It had been arranged to have the beloved pet euthanized. The parents decided to take their 6-year old son with them to the vet’s, so they’d all be together at the end of their pet’s life. As the dog breathed his last and the family petted the dog for the final time, the parents and vet wondered aloud about why humans live for so long and dogs live for such a short time.

The young boy didn’t hesitate to reply. He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’ The six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’

Remember, if a dog were the teacher you would learn things like:

  • When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
  • Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
  • Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
  • Take naps.
  • Stretch before rising.
  • Run, romp, and play daily.
  • Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
  • Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
  • On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
  • On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
  • When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
  • Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
  • Be loyal.
  • Never pretend to be something you’re not.
  • If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
  • When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

So, as our pet dogs have been showing us by example forever, defining what constitutes a good life isn’t so difficult after all! We can all take a leaf out of our dog’s book – or a friend’s dog’s book if you’re a cat person. Every single item on this list of dog lessons is worth embracing. (And to stand up for cats, they follow some of this advice … when they feel like it.) I have several favourites from this list; avoiding biting when a simple growl will do is right up there! What dog advice do you like best?

Photo credits: Flickr/Miika Silverberg, Scott Spinks/Wordpress

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15 Responses to How to lead a good life, from an unlikely source

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    I’m afraid I have a blind spot when it comes to finding any merit in dogs. Which is my shortcoming, not theirs. Suffice to admit that sometimes, and annoyingly, I find that I can like a few 🙂

    • Jane Fritz says:

      OK, so neither dogs nor plane travel are on your list of personal faves. But surely, Roy, you can appreciate from a distance their inexhaustible ability to find and express joy at the simplest of things. Like welcoming their master home as if he or she has been gone for 10 years instead of 10 minutes. Or going after a ball or a stick for HOURS. Come on, admit it! 😏

      • Roy McCarthy says:

        Hmm. I can see how others can like dogs Jane, and I wouldn’t deny (for example) an older person that genuine friendship and connection. But I see the other, anti-social side too. I’ll not get on my soapbox though as I’ve no wish to fall out with the many doggy people that might be reading.

        • Jane Fritz says:

          And since I’m a cat person (whose life was enriched by my cats when we had them), I don’t disagree anyway. I just acknowledge the unique characteristics of loyalty and boundless sense of enthusiasm dogs bring to those who choose to take care of them. 🙂

  2. says:

    OMG! It’s so true….dogs are, on the whole, pretty happy in their lives. Ours is happier than ‘a pig in mud’ (although that is a fallacy re the pig). Finder is so much better bite-wise…he is growing up- five months old today and 43+pounds. Mike sent us a pic of Kate’s rabbits in the snow…Finder is excited about it too. But we are not.

    Cat people, like you, probably contend that cats are fairly content with their lives as long as they are cosy, warm and napping!


    Sent from my iPad


    • Jane Fritz says:

      🐶🐱💕 Very glad to hear that your pup is starting to embrace the “avoid biting when a simple growl will do” rule! 😉 I can just imagine him joyfully welcoming his first snow. A cat would not share that joy! They aren’t heavily into exhibiting unrestrained joy about much of anything, very unlike dogs. Cats are very loving, and love snuggling (especially when you’re just about to get up), but they definitely like to make and follow their own rules. We miss ours!

  3. A very sweet and lovely post. Ironically I did the same thing with my son’s cat who was almost 20. My son sold his home, packed up his things to move, but his cat Princess, who he’d had since he was a boy, was failing in health. He knew she couldn’t make the journey to Atlanta and so he left Prencess with me and settled in up in Georgia and hoped to come back down and drive up with her. He closed on his new home, unpacked everything but after two weeks I had to alert him after consulting with our Vet. Princess, after her last hoorah, was going downhill quickly and the end was near.The vet said it was her time, her organs were failing. My son immediately flew down that day. He and I brought her to the vets and she snuggled, purred, and weakly rubbed against us so sweetly. And we both lovingly pet her as she was put to sleep. She died happy and loved.

    I think the little boy in his wisdom understood his dog. Children and animals are very wise. I don’t see much difference in the cat or dog department when it comes to love. And I’ve had both. I’ve seen my old Persian cat drag himself to the door trying to greet me as I came home from work when he was old and feeble. He collapsed by my feet and he died in my arms. He waited until I came home to love him. Ive had a collie lie by my bed too weak to get up but she wanted to be near me. Carrying her to the vets was the saddest thing I’ve ever done. So I’ve seen the same loyalty and love in both kinds of animals. When a person or family family shows they care, our pets are give us back love unconditionally.
    Princess (my son’s cat) howled for weeks crying on my son’s bed when he left for college. I’d never seen an animal so heartbroken. I had to hand feed her because she was so depressed and wouldn’t leave my son’s room. I even had to move the litter box in there. Eventually, she learned that he’d come back. But she’d go into a deep depression when he’d leave. My other animals seem to understand and left her be.
    Loyalty is a quality in animals that comes naturally to them if they are loved. My cats had all gotten old old and died and a year ago I adopted a rescue kitty (about 3 months old), after a hurricane demolished parts of Florida. This kitten had been born outside and gone through the storm. It took him two weeks of hiding under my bed and coming out night to eat before he finally trusted me. A year later he sleeps next to me follows me everywhere and greets me at the door every time I return home. He’s afraid of strangers but he’s loving to me.
    So …. what is a good life? For my newest pet a good life is about safety, love, and kindness, and for me it’s about having a family. Be they children or fur babies. Love is love.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      What wonderful stories about the loyalty and unconditional love we get from our pets, Lesley. Thank you so much for sharing. The bond we form with our pets is remarkably strong, and emotionally significant to those of us lucky enough to experience it. [As a cat person, I actually appreciate the more independent nature of cats!]

  4. barryh says:

    Reblogged this on I can't believe it! and commented:
    Here’s a wonderful post about how to live the good life, and learning from dogs. It’s so true.

  5. barryh says:

    I love this post. Will reblog it!

  6. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    Thanks again Jane for some great advice, and I have always been amazed by the differences between cats and dogs.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Wayne. I don’t want to spoil the magic of thinking about the good messages from dogs by sticking up too much for cats, but I’m afraid I relate more closely to a cat’s approach to life than a dog’s! 😉 Cats are pretty darn good at comforting their “people”, too, but they definitely make their own rules :).

  7. lilie215 says:

    Thank you. Lovely, insightful. We’ve been practicing this at our house, since our dear Ruby has been continuing our education process. We love cats, too. Eye, head and heart openers.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Lilie. It is truly amazing the strong attachment we get to our pets, isn’t it? That attachment has a huge positive impact on our health and well-being. The least we can do is try to learn from them. 🙂

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