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4 Ways to Stay Resilient that I Learned from My Dog

I have never been an easygoing person. Not once has anyone ever described me as laid back. I always assumed it wasn’t in my DNA to be calm and peaceful. When things went wrong, it destroyed me. I had coping skills, but they weren’t effective, unless you consider drowning your sorrows in bottles of wine and pans of brownies healthy. Sad but true, when things didn’t go my way or my expectations weren’t met, I felt desperately inept at holding myself together.

I kept waiting for my life to change–for things to start going my way. And that’s when I finally realized that life doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t simply go the way you want it to, no matter how much you wish or pray about it, and even sometimes no matter how hard you work at it. More often than not, life is simply hard. You don’t often get what you want, and most of us certainly don’t get what we deserve. We just get what we get. It’s how we cope with it, embrace it, and learn from it that makes us whole or broken.

Once I realized this, it was a slow awakening. I didn’t simply understand one day and wake up changed. Just like the reality of the alarm clock in the morning, I tried to deny it. I hit snooze. Pulled the covers over my head. Chased the last bits of darkness and dreams. But eventually, as is always true, I had to wake up and live my life.

Funnily enough, I took my cues on changing the way I lived from my dog. After all, she is happy all the time, so who better to look to for ways to live life? So I started to live like her.

1.     Embrace the morning.

I noticed that every morning, my dog wakes up happy and realized there’s no reason I can’t, too. She’s always snuggly and wagging and excited that it’s a new day. Instead of waking each morning and wishing my life were different, I decided to wake up thinking of it as a new beginning. No matter what has happened the day before, the morning is always a new opportunity—to change your attitude, your mood, your mind. That was a decision I had to make, a practice to put into play. I talked myself through it everyday until I didn’t need reminders anymore. Now, my puppy and I awake to stretch our limbs, get some good snuggles, and go outside for some fresh air. Each morning, regardless of whether it’s cold outside or I’m especially sleepy, is a fresh start.

2.     Use your senses.

Every time I walk the pup, she’s constantly sniffing, listening, alert. I realized that I never paid attention to my surroundings. I was always too busy brooding—looking at my feet or my phone or just lost in negative thoughts. Now, I’m present in each moment of my day. I look up at the sky to notice its blueness and the way the clouds stretch across the horizon. I take deep breaths, inhale the crisp winter air, and give thanks. I listen to the last of the leaves crunching underfoot, and cuddle into the softness of my scarf. It makes me grateful for the small things.

3.     Sing!

Let me preface this by telling you: I am not a singer. But, my dog absolutely adores it when I sing. She wags her whole body when I sing to her each morning and cuddles right up to me during her lullaby each night. I sing Taylor Swift and Queen and Sir Mix-a-lot and butcher every last lyric and note. But guess what? It makes her—and me—happy. You can’t belt out Bohemian Rhapsody and stay in a bad mood. It’s a scientific fact. Ok, maybe not, but it’s true for me.

4.     Show affection.

No matter what has happened in my day, my puppy is always glad to see me. She wags. She jumps. She gives kisses and cuddles. She cuddles up to me when I sit on the couch and sits on my lap when I work from home. While her affection doesn’t exactly translate into my world, I take a cue from her by smiling at people on the street, saying good morning, holding doors open, and paying compliments to friends and strangers alike. Not surprisingly, it makes me feel good to make others feel good. To send my sister a “just because” card, bring my co-worker his favorite snack, pick up the tab when I get coffee with a friend—it all makes me a happier person.

How does this translate into resilience? Well, I’m a happier person. Not because I have the perfect job or family or friends. Not because I have loads of money or my ideal figure or an amazing apartment. Not because I’m dating the man of my dreams or getting married or having a child. I’m happier because I’m grateful. I realize that for all the things I don’t have in my life, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, more to appreciate. When things don’t go the way I’d hoped, it doesn’t destroy me because I can recognize that there’s so much I have that is good, and there are so many reasons to be happy. I allow myself to feel sad or hurt or angry, but it doesn’t consume me. I feel it, and then I move on from it. I wake up to a new day, sing to my puppy, and say hello to my neighbors while the first snowflakes swirl around me.  I can see the bigger picture and realize that these are all small moments in a much greater scene. Rather than pursuing happiness, I’m just letting myself be happy.


Melissa Woodson is the community manager for @WashULaw, a Masters of Law in U.S. Law offered through Washington University in St. Louis that is considered a premier LLM degree. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and making half-baked attempts at training her dog. You may find her personal blog at or follow her on twitter @hungryhealthyMJ.

16 Responses to 4 Ways to Stay Resilient that I Learned from My Dog

  1. Rotem Cohen says:

    “I allow myself to feel sad or hurt or angry, but it doesn’t consume me. I feel it, and then I move on from it.” Exactly! Life is about experiences, and being happy doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly and exactly the way you want. Happiness is a state of mind and it is a choice you need to make. Great writing!

  2. I love your first point. For so many of us, mornings can be rough. After hitting snooze a few times we finally get up tired and cranky. In fact, we’re pretty poor company up until we’ve finished our second cup of coffee.

    But dogs ALWAYS wake up thrilled to start the day. I feel it should be that way for us to. I think it comes down to having a reason to start each day. Something to look forward to. For dogs, the simple joy of life and the company of their owners is plenty enough reason.

    We should take a cue from them.


  3. Joanne Zwiers says:

    Sweet article, and a great reminder to us all!

  4. John Ezetta says:

    This is an awesome article!! This is exactly what I needed, as I am going through much of the negative thoughts each morning, along with the stuff that I don’t have. It’s like our brain goes straight to it… unless you have another perspective and a different focus in life… being grateful and living just  like a dog does resonates with me, and I will take this too heart. Thank you!!!

  5. Eloise says:

    Thank you so very much!!! These few past days I’ve been feeling very down for no apparent reason,reading your article and applying its methods to my life is helping me. So thanks! :)

  6. Tina says:

    Great article! Just what I needed. Thanks so much.

  7. No comment. No need to add a thing to this post. I’m going to re-read it from time to time. Your dog is brilliant! 

  8. Claudia Whitsitt says:

    Such a wise post! Could you make this into a fridge poster, please?

  9. So glad you enjoyed it, Joanne! XO

  10. Yes! You really do have to coach yourself through it, don’t you? But once you adopt it, the positivity becomes as natural as the negativity once was. Best of luck to you, John! 

  11. Haha–I’ll get right on that 😉 

  12. Marty says:

    “Now, I’m present in each moment of my day”
    If you truly are presenting each moment of your day, then you must be a Buhhda. Even the Dali Lama is not that present! However, the fact that you are conscious of the need and try to be present as much as possible is a very good thing.

  13. Marty says:

    Sorry I meant “present” not “presenting”
    iPad spell check and lack of human check got me again.

  14. Raaniaislam says:

    wow…….great job. i really like to read it.thnx

  15. Guest says:

    Great writing! NEver could have expressed the exact same feelings so nicely…

  16. Jorge Blanco says:

    I can see the bigger picture and realize that these are all small
    moments in a much greater scene. Rather than pursuing happiness, I’m
    just letting myself be happy. – That’s just beautiful. Just reading it makes me happy as well.

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