The Health Benefits of Being Around Animals
April is National Stress Awareness month. While there are many ways to relieve stress our favorites include walking and cuddling with four-legged friends. Seventy percent, about 90.5 million families in the U.S., own a pet.1 Therefore, we think it is safe to assume you have or have had a pet. They become part of your family and can make you feel like the only person on earth.
The American Heart Association says it’s no secret pets can contribute to your happiness.2 Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise, and can improve overall health. Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine, creating positive feelings for you and your pet.3
But what can we learn from these companions? Vint Virga, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, is the author of “The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human.” He has studied animals and the profound connections humans share with them. He highlights lessons animals offer us like savoring the moment, remembering to play, practicing forgiveness, and loving unconditionally.4
But can companionship with an animal help you find joy? The short answer is yes. As you get older, you may feel your life change. Your children may be grown or you may be retired with more time to do things that bring you joy. For many, animals can be a source of comfort and support – boosting morale, optimism, and sense of self-worth.
While you may opt to forgo a live-in pet, you can still reap the benefits. Ask to walk a neighbor’s dog or keep their cat company, volunteer at a local animal shelter, or simply say hi when you see a dog out stretching its legs. Even the simplest of moments with an animal can put a smile on your face.
And if animals aren’t your thing, find something else that brings you joy. It may be photography, taking a class, or spending time with family and friends. There is no right or wrong answer but take a nod from our four-legged friends to simply live in the moment and find joy in things that give you comfort.
4 The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us about Being Human – PMC (nih.gov)