Flourishing and thriving in life require (among other things) having a sense of meaning and purpose, being reasonably healthy physically, feeling connected to others and having fun. On the other hand, a few of the more significant contributors to mental ill-health are being sick and tired, and feeling lonely and isolated.
Interestingly, owning a pet can address all these issues in a positive way; as such, in this post, I’m going to focus on how having a pet can boost your happiness and wellbeing. Here are my top 10 ways:
- You’re more likely to get outside and be active – this is especially true for dog owners who, often several times each day, walk their pets and in doing so integrate valuable activity and exercise in to their lives; and we all know how important activity and exercise are for our physical and mental health.
- They contribute to higher levels of immunity – interestingly, children who grow up in homes with pets are less likely to develop common allergies such as asthma.
- Patting pets reduces stress and anxiety – there’s a comforting feeling that comes from the rhythm of patting which has been proven to increase levels of oxytocin, lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels, and ultimately easing negative emotions such as stress.
- They can be a great, positive distraction – interacting with a pet can take your mind off worries and problems, helping to ease the distress associated with negative life events.
- Alternatively, they can keep you focused in the present moment – interacting with a pet can also be a wonderful way to stay grounded, in the present moment, which can be considered a form of mindfulness meditation, something we know is fantastic for mental health and happiness.
- They offer unconditional love and affection – we should all be so lucky that we’re loved as much as that pet loves us when we walk in the door after a long day’s work. Unconditional positive regard goes a long way toward making us feel good, about ourselves and about the world more generally.
- They reduce loneliness and isolation – as noted at the start of this article, loneliness and isolation are increasingly being seen as serious contributors to depression and to poor mental health. The flip side of this is that having positive relationships and feeling connected, can boost positive emotions such as happiness. Those relationships need not be with another human! Which is why pets can be so good for our health and wellbeing.
- Increase the frequency of physical contact and touch – along the same lines as that referred to previously when highlighting the benefits of patting pets, frequent physical contact has been shown to benefit our physical and psychological wellbeing.
- Caring for something provides meaning and purpose – the Japanese have a concept the refer to as Ikigai, which loosely translates as having a reason to get up and out of bed each day! More often, we refer to this as living a life of and/or with purpose and meaning. There’s no doubt this is extremely important for living a good life; and there’s no doubt that having something or someone to care for, like a pet, can indubitably provide a reason to get up and live.
- You’ll play and smile more – finally, interacting with pets can be playful; and fun. And there’s no doubt that many of us “grown-ups” could benefit from some more fun and play in our lives as they boost positive emotions, counteract stress and depression, and generally, add positivity to our days, months and years.
Taking all of this into account, it’s pretty clear that owning and caring for a pet can be extremely beneficial in so many ways. In fact, it could even be said that “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened (Anatole France).”