Best doggone way to keep resolutions
Resolutions are hard to keep, and New Year’s Eve ones especially so.Something about the occasion encourages an easy optimism that never seems to survive the reality that arrives with the smell of stale smoke the next morning.Mere resolve without altering the lifestyle that requires the change in the first place is rarely enough. More exercise, get out more, meet new people, get up earlier, leave the office at a humane time, diet, eat better, exercise, watch less TV, smile more. The list goes on and on, but there’s a fairly simple step that will change your life and help you achieve many of these with lots of positive feedback along the way.Adopt a dog. A dog is one of the more selfish gifts you can ever give to your self. For a small amount of effort (feeding, walking, vet visits and consistent behavior on your part), you get a friend that never argues, thinks you’re the best person in the world – with no teenage “you don’t understand” phase. Dogs let you know this constantly and apologize so profusely when they’re wrong that it takes a real sustained effort to be angry.One of the harder parts of disciplining-training is maintaining that “bad boy! I’m annoyed at you” look for more than a minute or two before breaking down to reassure your distraught, ears-down, sad-eyed pooch. It’s even hard to be mad at the world when your dog is around, as it thinks you’re mad at it. Dogs encourage forgiveness for themselves, everyone else and even you. That’s almost a better trick than balancing a biscuit on a nose.Who would have thought that a predawn cold shuffle in wind-blown snow could become the highlight of my day? Emotions are contagious. Someone smiles at you, it’s hard not to smile back, and the act of smiling makes you happier. It goes both ways. A happy mood lets you smile. Creating a smile makes you happier. Test this by holding a genuinely miserable face and you’ll be surprised at how it affects your emotional state. Perhaps that’s why sulking children try so desperately to hold onto that glum frown. One sneaky smile and they know the martyrdom game’s up.A different take on the same effect is not that success makes you happy, but that happy people are often successful.Anyway, a dog is almost always smiling around you – their hero – and it’s hard not to get swept along by their joyous behavior. Friends and family can have the same effect, but unlike dogs they have bad days now and again. I’ve yet to see a dog having a bad day when around an owner who is committed to caring for it.I now do get up earlier, but I’m still chronically late for work. It’s tough to cut off our fun every morning. I meet more people, though I may only know them as Cyril’s owners. The social clumps of owners in parks all chatting as the dogs sniff away are a sight in every city these days. I cook better meals when the dogs are around. I have an audience to entertain, whose appreciative noses tell me I’m Chef Boyardee, and they help with the first stage of washing up – pan degreasing. Need an internal and external excuse to leave work at 5 p.m.? Externally, most bosses understand the problem of canine bladder capacities. Internally, it’s great to be welcomed with your own ticker-tape parade every day.Holidays can be sad times for those who are alone amid the oppressive mandatory bonhomie of Christmas. There’s an urban myth that this is the busiest time of the year for suicides. It instinctively makes sense, and you have Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” almost as proof. People may get depressed more, but suicidal behavior is crisis-orientated behavior. The holidays actually have a lower daily suicide rate with the exception of New Year’s Day, which is the biggest of the year. Many theories why: Holidays provide some family support and a distraction from the crisis, which comes back into view on New Year’s Day as normal life returns. Another less likely one is that the perception of more suicides mobilizes all the support services and this is effective in bringing the rate down.It’s tempting to think of suicidal people as rare nut cases who are different from us normal folk. Not so. They’re just people and if whatever “unsolvable” crisis is resolved, then after a recovery period of around 90 days most will never try again. Suicides outnumber homicides. There’s a suicide every eighteen minutes in the U,S.There’s little as sad as tales from the emergency room of failed suicides who have only managed to add irreparable injury to what was a curable illness. Cries for help should go to a loved one, therapist or perhaps a kennel before the emergency room. Heck, you could probably borrow a dog for the 90 days needed, though I’m betting that few lonely people will ever return one.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.Vail, Colorado
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