December 24, 2018
What with everything that has happened in the last few years, avoiding cynicism and other negative thinking requires acrobatic skill. Sometimes copious amounts of alcohol.
Since 2016, I've had moments when my brain was more or less preoccupied with rational, positive thoughts. And then I look at the news and, suddenly, those thoughts crumble and re-coagulate into a glob of distrustful, suspicious and angry ruminations.
What with the state of this country and the bad news that seems to crop up every morning, many of us will need to work hard at shedding the cynicism which has been given fertile ground to blossom.
Put down that third glass of wine, pull your head out from under the pillow, and take some lessons from our dogs on how to avoid cynicism and other negative thoughts.
When your dogs are playing, I can guarantee you they’re not thinking, "I bet the only reason SHE gave me that dog treat was because SHE felt guilty about leaving me for hours while SHE went off to play Pickleball. Nor are they thinking, “I hope tonight isn’t bath night,” or “I bet she's out of those delicious duck meat-wrapped, sweet potato treats.”
Play has a way of easing the negative out of one’s head. It’s also a good way to avoid watching or listening to the news. You can burn calories, too!
One of these days, I’m going to take a lesson from my dog's playbook. I'll run across the street from my home into the fields, chase a ball and roll around in the grass, just like my Stella did. Or, I’ll do what Jemma does and stand in the back yard, letting a breeze blow past my ears, and look for squirrels. It may look like mindless entertainment, but play, just for the sake of play, is healthy.
It might not look like play but it is.
2. Find joy in the little things.
Dogs really don't need a steady diet of major excitement. Not all dogs can be YouTube or Facebook celebrities. It doesn’t matter to your dog if he or she has 3 million followers.
If their owners are feeling low and out of sorts, or just plain lazy, dogs make do. No walkies that day? Then, “Let’s go out back and check out the new smells in the yard.” “Let’s watch for squirrels and stare for hours up a tree.” “Hey, I’ve never dug over in this part of the yard before!” Take time to watch their insignificant joyful discoveries and the way they find endless satisfaction in things that seem so meaningless to us.
No greater distraction from cynicism exists than finding joy in some little thing. When we’re being suffocated and overrun by bad news and negative commentary, the best antidote is to look out a few inches away from ourselves. Joy is there, waiting for you to attend to it.
It's just a ball, but it was hours of fun! Just sitting here chillin'
3. Forgive. Don’t hold a grudge.
No matter how many times I’ve accidentally stepped on my dogs’ paws, accidentally bonked them on their heads with a thrown toy, or refused to put my dinner plate on the floor for them to lick it clean, none of them remembered these hurts. It's not a bad thing to have such a short-term memory. Forgiveness is the benefit. After some negligent or stupid pet owner misdeeds, we’re all quickly back to normal, enjoying the day and each other’s company.
I think about how many hours I’ve wasted clinging to the bad feelings surrounding some incident or comment. Some day, I hope I’ll be more like my dogs and just reflexively let it go.
Eventually, Carmella forgive her owner for doing this to her.
4. Quit thinking “Life isn’t fair.”
Most dogs, I’m sure, take what they can get. If my Jemma is left behind when I go off to shop she's upset, I’m sure. But I doubt she's thinking, "I bet other dogs don't get abandoned just because SHE needs some Q-tips." I like to believe what Jemma is thinking is, “Okay, maybe next time. I understand.” Or, “I’ll be fine here. I’ve got water, a comfy house, this sofa, and her pajamas.”
A Life Isn’t Fair attitude is a direct bullet-train ride to cynicism. In life, rarely do the scales balance out. Countless reasons exist for the sum total of events to appear cockeyed, so that events seem to be weighted heavily against you. Sometimes it’s due to random circumstance; sometimes it’s not.
When you manage to change your viewpoint and discard the Life Isn’t Fair attitude, it becomes so much easier to replace it with: “I’m grateful for what I have.”
It's okay; I'll get to go next time.
5. Don’t harbor regrets.
Your dogs live each day as though the previous one never happened. Unless they’re physically hurting, they wake up and go about the day with the same energy and enthusiasm they showed as the day before. I’m convinced that Jemma has no lingering angst over what she might have done wrong to get her removed from her first home and tossed into an animal shelter. Yes, maybe she did poop indoors a couple of times. Perhaps her previous owner grew tired of replacing shoes.
But what purpose does regret serve? To remind ourselves that we “failed” at something?
Regret dissolves into anger at oneself followed by a heap of negative thoughts. Overall, it’s best not to pepper one’s brain with regret. Resolve to do better, not to undo the past.
Before I close, I’ll add one more to the list.
Laugh often. Laughter leaves no space left for cynicism and other negative thoughts.
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