This is my dog Charlie. I got him six years ago during my last week of radiation as a “congrats you are finished with cancer treatment” gift to myself. I brought him home stuffed inside of my jacket to shield him from the cold brought on by a snowstorm that had just passed though New York City, where I lived at the time. He weighed only 2.5 pounds and my heart melted instantly. His cuteness was irresistible, but I soon realized that raising a puppy was a lot harder than I anticipated. The potty training, the teething, the barking, teaching him to sit and not chew every pair of shoes all drove me pretty crazy in the beginning. He chewed through my Macbook charger twice and peed on my bed. He also chewed the side of my wall, which my property manager loved. Needless to say, we got off to a challenging start together, but over time Charlie would give me an entirely new perspective on life all together.
As time went on, Charlie and I learned more and more about each other. We went from just cohabitating in my studio apartment to constantly snuggling with each other every chance we got. I would sing to him and he would bark along, he would roll over for treats and let me put him in ridiculous outfits for the hell of it. I dressed him in a taco costume for Halloween (and was almost brought to tears with pride when he won a doggie costume contest!). We learned to “get” each other. And not only did Charlie become a friend and companion, but also a great teacher about what matters most in life.
I’ve learned a lot about love and partnership through Charlie, and also my overall outlook on how I choose to live. Having Charlie around has taught me to be a better person, friend, and partner. And it made me think, maybe we could stand to take a couple notes about life from our canine companions. Here are some of the life lessons Charlie has taught me:
1. Live with love at the core of your existence
Sure, he barks at squirrels in the trees like any dog, but Charlie is more likely to lick something to death than hurt it. He’s eager to meet anything that moves, and his first action is to lick and love you, whether he knows you or not. All Charlie wants is to be your friend and probably cuddle until you can’t cuddle anymore.
Imagine if we entered into foreign territory with simply the intention to show kindness and compassion, to not expect the worst, to welcome others with hugs and kisses? What a world we would live in. People find comfort in labels, and through labels we tend to define people as a group without really getting to know them. But imagine if we were simply open to people, no preconceived judgments, when we met them? Being accepting of people and living with love in your heart is a gateway for peace, and who doesn’t like that?
2. Show gratitude to the people in your life, old and new
I feed him, give him snuggles, take him on walks, and buy him toys. Charlie gives me love for it every day – well, maybe that’s just my human perception, but it’s still a good reminder to be grateful for the people who show up for you and add value to your life.
It doesn’t always need to be a grand act of gratitude either; telling someone how much you appreciate them, sending them a note, or just a hug and a “thank you for being you” are bound to make someone’s day. If someone means something to you, tell them. Another day is never guaranteed.
3. Practice forgiveness and let go of grudges
Sometimes I get angry at Charlie for barking or scold him for having an accident in the house. And some of those times my outburst turn out being a little over-the-top with him, which I wind up feeling guilty about later. But despite any reprimanding I may do, Charlie never holds a grudge. He always comes back ready to love me.
By forgiving and letting go of grudges, we are able to carry on living a life with love in our hearts. It also creates a pathway for positive experiences to enter our lives. By staying stuck on the past we concentrate a lot of our energy on negative feelings, and in the long term, that only holds us back from our own growth and moving forward. Letting go of grudges and forgiving the people who hurt or disappointed us not only frees us from being held back by our past, but it also reaffirms your strength as an individual with the choice to be happy. Most importantly, eliminating negative energy makes space in your spirit for new, positive experiences to find you.
4. Enjoy the simple things
Charlie sits on my retired grandmother’s lap all day – sometimes for hours at a time. The rest of his day is spent napping, chewing on his toys (sometimes playing fetch with himself by throwing his own ball then catching it), licking my nose, barking at random noises, begging my grandpa to feed him table scraps, pooping, and napping some more. What a life. And he is perfectly happy doing every bit of those things.
How many times have you sat back and felt like you didn’t have enough in life? I think for my generation especially, we are constantly unsatisfied with what we already have. But if you have a roof over your head, food in your belly, family, your health, and some money in your pocket, what is there left to want? Sometimes we can stand to focus more on the simple things and the immense value those bring to our lives. Sure, a Lamborghini is nice and shiny and fancy, but do you really need one to be happy in your soul? (If you answered yes, this post is not for you!) If you look back at the history of mankind, we don’t really need a lot of things to survive and be happy. My point is, find gratitude for the little things, and maybe you’ll find true fulfillment from them.
5. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Sometimes I dress Charlie up in costumes because it’s hilarious, plus he is small and can’t escape it anyway. One of my personal favorites is a a wooly mammoth costume I got him, with tusks and everything. It’s absolutely ridiculous. But you know what? Charlie doesn’t care. Despite any humiliation I may put him through, he never seems to mind. He’s not afraid to be silly. Sometimes he runs around in circles for no reason, and accidentally runs into walls and knocks things over. But he’s not ashamed, ever. He just gets up and keeps running with his tongue hanging out, happy as can be.
Charlie doesn’t take himself too seriously and neither should we. So what if we mess up or do something silly or have an accident? Life is all about making mistakes and learning from them. We are all our own worst critics, and sometimes that can hold us back from truly enjoying life. Who cares what other people might think about your hairstyle or job choice or wardrobe? If you don’t take yourself too seriously, then you are more able to go with the flow of life and let any potential criticism breeze past you. So we should all wear the silly costumes, embrace the mess ups, and do the bold things without taking everything so damn seriously. That’s what Charlie would do….