“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” - A.A. Milne
Animals can be some of the best teachers in life, if you simply pay attention to the way they live, love, and interact with the world around them.
They possess an incredibly grounding energy that:
- Teaches us how to stay present (they’re rarely worried about the future or tormented by the past)
- Provides unconditional love
- Heals hearts and souls
This is the reason why therapy dogs—and cats, rabbits, and other creatures—have become so ubiquitous in hospitals, long-term living facilities, and prisons.
These compassionate animals provide love and affection to those who need it most. They bring joy into lonely hearts, comfort the sick, and offer physical contact to people who otherwise receive little or no touch.
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to live with a dog, you know how they make you feel—like you’re the center of the universe. Who else is going to greet you with such unbridled joy—tail wagging, turning in frantic circles, howling in excitement—when you come home from work?
They’re so much more than our best friends; they’re members of our families and, for many people, the living being with whom they share the strongest connection. The animal-human bond is profoundly powerful—and research is finally proving it.
Here are four ways spending time with animals can make you happier and healthier:
1. Improved Physical and Mental Health
Pets can lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels. A recent study found that even the simple act of watching fish swim in an aquarium can lower blood pressure and heart rate and reduce stress. Furthermore, pets provide companionship that can help combat feelings of loneliness.
2. Increased Exercise
Most dogs need to be walked twice a day, which means you’re walking right alongside them. This increased physical activity not only improves your physical health, but also combats depression and makes you happier.
3. More Opportunities to Socialize
Animals have an uncanny ability to transcend social barriers. You’ve probably noticed that it’s much easier to strike up a conversation with a person who has an adorable animal in tow than someone who does not.
This social interaction, however brief, can increase feelings of happiness and help you feel more connected to your community.
4. Release of Oxytocin
Oxytocin is the feel-good hormone responsible for the euphoric love and unbreakable bond between human mother and baby. Gazing into a dog’s eyes releases oxytocin in both the dogs and the humans.
Of course, not everyone can have pets at home. They are, after all, an enormous responsibility. But there are so many ways to spend time with animals without the long-term commitment of a family pet.
Here are some alternative ways to reap the benefits of spending time with animals:
Think beyond the four walls of the local shelter and explore other rescue organizations in your area that focus on specific species, breeds, and medical conditions. And then get involved.
These rescue organization need kind and loving people just like you to help:
- Walk dogs
- Pet cats
- Train and socialize animals
- Provide foster care
- Help with transportation
Whatever your passion may be, these organizations will put you to work to improve an animal’s life.
Volunteering with a rescue organization is a double dose of happiness, too, because not only does spending time with animals boost your mood, but acting in the service of others is an excellent way to improve both physical and mental health.
Go to a local park, beach, or forest and observe the birds, squirrels, and any other creatures that might be there. Watch them move about their world or close your eyes and listen to the sounds they make.
Slow down and pay attention to how they focus on the simple things, like chewing an acorn or building a nest. This can help you feel more connected with nature, and thus more grounded and at ease.
This is a wonderful way to spend some quality time with animals if you can’t have your own pet. Pet owners are always eager to find reliable, animal-loving humans to look after their pets while they’re away. Try:
- Watching a pair of dogs while their owners leave for the day
- Feeding a friend’s cats while she’s on vacation
- In-home pet sitting for longer-term vacations
Supporting Animals from Afar
Maybe you love animals but you don’t necessarily want to or can’t be physically close to them. There are countless ways to support our best friends and love them from afar.
You can donate to an animal rescue, organize a fundraiser, or assist with administrative tasks—like drumming up grants or helping out with a rescue organization’s social media.
Here’s something simple anyone can do right away, and it benefits both animals and humans. Store a few small packets of dog food and human snacks in your car. When you see a homeless person with a dog, offer them the dog food along with the snacks.
Showing compassion toward others—even in a small way—is a positive practice that lifts spirits and brightens days.