There is an old saying, “A dog is a man’s best friend”. Dogs truly are remarkable animals. They have a lot to teach us including; loyalty, kindness, unconditional love and protection. But one quality dogs can especially help us to learn is about how to practice gratitude. Here are five ways that dogs practice gratitude each day and what we can learn from them.
- Live in the moment–
Dogs live in the moment. They are naturally attuned to each moment and are present with their owners and with each other. They don’t stay focused on the past and aren’t dwelling on the future. They are present and alive in each moment with gratitude. They are present in their surroundings and to those that they love.
We too can be mindful in each moment and feel a sense of gratitude no matter what. Even when we are emotionally struggling or fearful, we can bring ourselves back to a moment to moment experience.
- Appreciate what we have-
Dogs appreciate what they have. Sure, they may want another scoop of dog food or a bone to chew on but they are simple creatures. They make due with what they have and are content with it. Dogs aren’t fixated on wanting more to make them happy. They are happy being with others and giving and receiving love.
We can find gratitude in what we have too. Without being fixated on wanting more possessions, a bigger house, a better car or too make more money. We can find peace in allowing what we have to be enough. And instead find meaning by focusing on our relationships with our self and with others.
- Don’t hold grudges-
Dogs don’t hold grudges. They might get their feelings hurt when they have misbehaved and been scolded by their owners but they learn to trust again, Dogs reconnect with those that they love and show gratitude to their families.
We too can learn to make amends and repair relationships with those that we love. We can accept when we have been wrong and apologize. We can move forward and let go of hurts. We can practice gratitude by recognizing ways that we have grown personally during hard times. Even in complicated relationships we can look for what is there for us to learn about ourselves and the world and be grateful for the learning process. Sometimes forgiveness can be complicated especially when there have been extreme wrongdoings or if we have suffered great trauma at the hands of others. We can contemplate what forgiveness means to us. And know that if we “choose” forgiveness it does not have to be to benefit the other person but can be for ourselves only.
- Accept ourselves-
Dogs are experts at accepting themselves. They don’t sit around fixated on wanting to be bigger or smaller, leaner or stronger. They are just as they are. They come in all shapes and sizes with personalities to match. They accept who they are. They seem to appreciate and work with their strengths and weaknesses. They seem to be grateful for who they are and happy to just, “be alive”.
We too can practice acceptance for who we are, just as we are. We may struggle with loving or accepting ourselves due to unhealthy messages we’ve received growing up, or mixed messages we receive from society and cultural norms. But when we practice gratitude each day for who we are, we thrive and become resilient to outside pressures.
- Don’t hold back love-
Dogs are notorious for not holding back their love. They love to love. They show it in their eyes, when they wag their tails or snuggle up to give us a wet kiss. They show appreciation for others and feel grateful to be petted or receive a loving pat on the head.
We can examine our lives and look for ways that we may hold back our love from others. Sometimes we might see that we are holding back our love when we feel resentment towards others, or want our loved ones or friends to be different than who they are. We can be curious about our actions and look at the ways that holding back love can negatively affect us. We can practice gratitude for those that we hold back love from and rather look at everything we don’t like about them or ways that we want them to change we can search instead for what makes us grateful. We, like dogs, need to be loved and to give love in order to be at our best.
Gratitude practices can be unique to each individual. It can be a nightly practice of writing down in your journal 3-5 things that you are grateful for each day, or a moment to moment daily recognition of gratitude in one’s life. It can be part of a spiritual practice or daily prayer. It can take place in nature, or be done alone in private. It can be expressed at the dinner table each night with family members as part of a daily routine or in phone calls to friends. Whatever way you choose to practice gratitude just know that each time you do, you are contributing to your own positive mental and physical health. Gratitude can become a mindset and change your life!
If you are needing help to practice more gratitude in your life and are feeling stuck with depression, anxiety or trauma then EMDR therapy can help. Sometimes we can benefit by working through hurts while also practicing gratitude so that we can find joy and peace in our life.
The inspiration for this blog is Lemecias’ dog Hanna