Why Do We Dog People Need To Practice Optimism?
We can redefine optimism as positivity with realistic expectation.
Optimistic thoughts, feelings and expectations are sometimes innate but more often they must be created and nurtured to become default thinking. Remember the negative bias?
If we were lucky as children, our parents started to forge optimism into us directly after we were born. They set up our environment for excellent learning and parented us with grace, starting our natural optimism early in our lives. Or we may have been emotionally, physically or psychologically neglected and become pessimistic, expecting the worst outcome every step of the way. Most of us are somewhere in between.
People that are resilient practice optimism because it prevents worrying, fortune telling and projecting bad results into the future. It’s actually better to have no expectation of a situation than expect the worst from it.
Pessimistic expectations can make life very difficult indeed, even when it doesn’t need to be. For example, you may be attending a dog behaviour event where you have to meet and spend time with a lot of online friends that you haven’t met before. As the event gets closer you may start to worry about it. You could start to worry about the motorway drive and expect danger and delays, worry about whether you will fit in with the people you know, or be certain you will make a show of yourself due to social anxiety.
You may really want to go to the event but it’s outside your comfort zone so three days before you are left with a choice:
1. Do you expect a good journey and lovely time, making new friends and gathering bags of useful dog knowledge?
2. Or do you expect dangerous drivers, to get lost, to arrive late and that once everyone meets you they will see how dull you are and no longer want to know you?
Neither of the above things have happened. In fact, none of your expectations have come into any kind of form because they are not in this moment and never were. Yet if you were to start worrying about the conference two weeks before, your body’s stress system is likely to be activated and you will experience physical changes. It could soon be that you are getting stressed whenever thoughts of the conference enter your mind, so you sell your ticket and get on with your life in the comfort zone.
Alternatively, you could take life one moment at a time and make yourself realise that your comfort zone is not the place to grow into your potential. So you go to the event, which you will enjoy because it’s all about dogs and something you really wanted to do. Then next time you see something similar and decide to attend, it will be easier.
Forging optimism as an adult is hard, particularly if we have practiced worry for so long. Like any other practice it takes self-exploration and careful awareness of your thoughts, inclusive of the ability to recognise the wild mind, which would wrap you in cotton wool and never let you anywhere near the boundaries of your comfort zone.
Through study we are told that learning optimism is empowering. It is linked through testing to business success and even fewer injuries in sport, by the participants that practice optimism. People that practice optimism present it as a magic ingredient in their lives because everything they expect to go right usually does.
The most interesting thing about optimism and pessimism in our lives is that the same single experience can occur for two people yet their experience of it can be totally different. One will use it to further their resilience and self-belief whilst not even considering any negative connotations from it. The other may see it as yet another kick from this hardship called life, and not see any positivity in the experience at all. Most of us are somewhere in between.
It’s an excellent idea to examine your thoughts when faced with a challenge. What is your natural go-to expectation of the challenge? Ask yourself why! An excellent side effect of growing self-belief through small self-set challenges is the growth of optimism alongside it.
Laughter and Humour
Laughter is the ultimate positive emotion. Related directly to happiness, humour is an important tool for personal well-being and resilience.
In various studies laughter has been proven to relieve pain by producing endorphins which are the body’s pain relief chemical. It causes tension in the muscles, which then relax and stay more relaxed than before, for up to 24 hours. Laughter builds relationships, prevents loneliness, lowers blood pressure, releases mental and physical tension and heightens the immune response.
If you have been in a situation where laughter is trying to get out in response to something in the environment you will know that it is often uncontrollable. We can’t laugh at something we don’t find funny and we can’t stop laughing at something we do. We actually don’t know much about why we laugh, or the reasoning behind it, but we do know that it can affect the entire body, even the limbs and ability to breathe.
Scientists have found that laughter itself seems to be predominantly about people. It’s a natural communication tool that enhances relationships with those around us. Laughter builds bonds.
Laughter and communication are generally always intertwined. Whether we create something that makes other people laugh, or we laugh with someone else, it’s all about relationships with others. Laughter leads to bonding because it makes us feel good. It makes us want to return to the source of our amusement again and again, because it changes how we feel.
Humour begins as a natural behaviour and then becomes affected by learning experiences and life in general. As children we tend to play and laugh a lot. We enjoy everything and find even unpleasant things funny. As our personalities develop, so does our sense of humour. As we get older and develop the intelligence that shapes wisdom and a mature outlook, our humour becomes subtler. We begin to laugh at situations, or even life itself.
As adults we have often a sense of humour that has been learned from our local communities yet is not universally recognised. Whilst we consider some things funny inside of our own social circles, society rules or even geographical areas, they may not be funny outside of them. As adults we have often learned to laugh at the things that embarrass us, or the stressors that affect our lives. This varies with individuals, but it is generally a healthy attitude to take as opposed to rumination or even depression about life.
When mental health issues occur, we can forget how to laugh. Similarly, if we are always in our comfort zone, we get fewer chance of new experiences, which can lead to the good feeling associated with laughter.
Humour is part of resilience and optimism because it twists a bad situation happening to us, into something funny. Nothing has changed about the situation, but how we feel about the situation is much more beneficial to us. An important part of humour which some people have, is the ability to laugh at yourself which will give a much healthier perspective than worry because it helps to detract from the seriousness of any situation. Can you laugh at yourself? I imagine life may be difficult if you can’t.
Here’s an example of perspective from a situation that happened to me recently. I’m losing my hearing earlier than expected in my life. I also run an online business with my husband so when I’m waiting for appointments, I’m usually messing with my phone to catch up on the job. Yesterday I was in the waiting room at the dentist and heard my name called, so hopped up and went to the door. In the doorway I become entangled with another patient, called Barry. Poor Barry was the one actually called with no mention of Sally at all. When we were detangled, and Barry successfully went to his appointment, my first flush of embarrassment was replaced with a wave of despair. So, I changed the perspective there and then and have giggled about the situation ever since.
Hearing loss is serious business it can be isolating, embarrassing and depressing. I’m determined that for me it’s going to be another reason to laugh and practice different perspectives, which is something any of us can do with any challenge that enters our lives.
Don’t get me wrong, not every situation is funny. It can be hard to find humour during grief and crippling depression, but it’s available as a resilience tool for most of our lives and provides the most beneficial physical and emotional results. Humour certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.
The laughter type termed gallows humour began in Germany as galgenhumor and describes cynical humour or satire that we use to cope in difficult or traumatic situations. It is linked with resilience and hope and has the power to soothe suffering, producing mental and physical relaxation and relief in times of trouble. If you don’t laugh often, it’s time to laugh more because laughter therapy exists for one reason. It works!
When we wake up in the morning and have a dozen things to do before lunch it could be easy to believe that we would be happier with a lottery win, so we don’t have to do anything. Part of our wellness though, is that our lives have meaning. So it’s an excellent idea to ask yourself whether the things you choose to do in your life have real and valuable meaning to you and if they don’t, perhaps it’s time for a change.
Most people who work with dogs do so because they love them. In many ways, they give meaning to our lives. Dogs we live with greet us as we wake, we tend to their needs with devotion and spend time learning about them, so we can further understand and communicate with them. All of that gives us meaning.
Trials and tribulations also give us meaning. For example, if we lost a job, we have meaning to find another or start a business. It’s common when we live with an ageing or sick dog to make them our meaning, we spend a lot of time caring for them and making sure their extra needs are met. Then when they leave us, we lose that sense of meaning along with the dog we love, so we suffer doubly.
If you take a different stance to the things that trouble you, for example you may have a client who is difficult, and you have to work extra hard with them, view them as your meaning. You will learn skills from them that easier clients don’t trigger. Those skills will be with you forever and rather than viewing them with frustration or annoyance, consider them as part of your journey to satisfaction, through their unique ability to bring meaning into your life. When you finally succeed with the more difficult clients, you will have benefitted from them twice, because your accomplishment will also build your resilience, because succeeding at something always does.
Everyone has meaning, we are all vitally important to someone, even to our dogs and our unique skills are precious in the world. Ask yourself though, do you act with meaning and are the things you do on a daily basis aligned with your own values? Having a meaningful life is excellent for self-belief. Whether you volunteer for an hour a week, run an online auction for charity, do home checks for a rescue or do something different altogether – the more meaning you have that’s aligned directly with your heart and values, the better your life will be.
Are you always distracted? When did you last get into the zone with something? There’s a human need to find engagement, it’s excellent for the brain and wellbeing. We often talk about engagement with dogs as an amazing tool for learning and it really is.
Engagement is natural mindfulness and when we experience it, there’s nothing like it. People that are excellent at one skill, are so good at it because they become truly engaged in the activity and there’s no room for anything else in their mind at that point.
Experiencing engagement seems to take you to another level, one that you can’t feel when you’re not in it, but you can get lost in when you are. For example, if you’re a seasoned runner, you could get to the end of a five mile run and realise you only remembered the first and last mile, because you were totally in the zone and engaged for the middle three.
There are many ways to find engagement, one of the best in our industry is playing with your dog – or in fact anyone’s dog. It’s about being completely single minded in your activity and not distracted by anything outside of that moment. It’s about unplugging from the world, which is something that we all need to do for complete peace of mind.
Engagement strengthens resilience, it makes you stronger within. Many runners say that they run because they need to. And that’s because it gives them the resilience that helps with the rest of their lives. Dogs, knitting, running, writing, dancing, playing and many other activities trigger engagement and when you practice regularly your life will be wonderfully enhanced and you will be more resilient for it.
Being resilient is like a vaccination against compassion fatigue and if anyone needs that, dog professionals do. All of the points above, although they may seem unrelated to your professional life, they will be the framework that keeps you standing tall throughout tough times, when you need it most.