Dogs experience the world very differently from people. For most humans, perception occurs through vision. Sure, you use your other senses, such as smell, taste and touch, but sight is the predominate way in which people process the world around them. Not us canines.
Dogs “see” the world with our noses first. We have 60 times more olfactory receptor cells in our noses than humans, which means our sense of smell is far superior. Without boring you with the scientific details, we also have a special organ that helps us decipher information from scent molecules. When we sniff things, we are gathering data. So, when you keep dogs on a tight leash and take us on “power walks,” it’s not very fun for us. We’d much rather explore the world by stopping to smell things, such as fire hydrants, trees, a random stick, and even “gross” stuff that you’d rather not have us investigate. Hey, we don’t judge smells (ahem, your sneakers for instance); it’s just information.
Why the lesson in dog senses? Well, a very smart human (Walter Hagen) once said: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” That’s great advice. From a dog’s perspective, humans spend so much time rushing around and “getting things done,” that they often fail to notice the incredible world around us. And, that’s just sad – as well as counterproductive. Research shows that taking time to “just be” not only reduces stress and helps make us more productive, it also sparks creativity and new ideas. Therefore, with summer in full swing and so many great smells (and sights) just waiting to be appreciated, I’m taking a break from marketing advice to offer some suggestions for slowing down:
- Notice the small things. When is the last time you got up-close and personal with a flower, a buzzing bee, or a fluttering butterfly? If you did, you’d find that a flower is a work of art, bees have tiny hairs, and butterflies have long, curly tongues, which, I gotta admit, freaked me out a little. Taking time to really notice and appreciate the small, but miraculous things around us fires neurons in our brains associated with creativity, while boosting our moods.
- Be grateful. We all have problems. For instance, I’ve outgrown my dog bed and now my head hangs off the side, which can be annoying. But, when I think about all the dogs who don’t have homes, let alone somewhere soft to sleep, I stop complaining. I’m a lucky dog. Gratitude can change your attitude: Research shows that gratitude gives us perspective, makes us happier, improves our health, helps us deal with adversity, and builds stronger relationships. Try finding something to be grateful for every day. Today, I’m thankful for belly rubs.
- Control what you can… and don’t stress about the rest. Worrying about things you can’t control or change zaps your energy and causes undue stress. Take traffic for instance. You can’t change traffic, but you can control how you deal with it. Instead of fretting, try singing along to your favorite songs, listening to books on tape, or, my personal favorite, sticking your head out the window.
- Live in the moment. Instead of constantly thinking about what comes next, try to be present in the moment. Put down the electronics and really engage with the person (or animal) you’re with. Frankly, it’s rude to play fetch with your pal while texting! Or, if you’re like me, and have a habit of wolfing down your food as if you’re starving, try taking your time and really savoring the tastes. Mindfulness takes practice, but it helps develop brain cells and makes life more enjoyable.
- Find joy. If you slow down a bit, you’re sure to find more things to smile about. Just open your eyes (or your noses) and observe the world around you. This morning, for example, I got a good laugh (yes, dogs laugh) watching a squirrel trying, unsuccessfully, to get into the bird feeder. Little kids trying to eat ice cream (a prime licking opportunity), an unexpected treat (you never know what you’ll find in the trash), or an impromptu game of tug-of-war, can all bring joy into your day, if you take the time.
Trust me, life is too short and precious not to make the most of it. Slow down, recharge your batteries and be inspired by the world around you. If you need help, take a cue from your dog, who has already mastered these skills! And, the next time we want to stop and smell something, just let us. Who knows, you might like it, too.
From the Spry Ideas team, have a great summer!