Do you feel down and want something to help you to feel better? Did you know pets can help you to become and remain happy? Let’s explore the reasons for this and let you see whether a pet is a good option to improve your mood.
Generally speaking, animals improve a person’s mental well-being and happiness. Studies have shown, for instance, that dog owners are less likely to have depression than those without pets. Animals can lift a person’s mood. Just by them observing nature our happiness increases. Other animals have specific roles to lift people’s mood or mental health such as Pets As Therapy (P.A.T) animals. P.A.T animals go into nursing homes and hospitals to be stroked by/ spend time with residents and patients to reduce their stress and increase their happiness. Variations of P.A.T animals have long been seen as beneficial with horses used to improve the mental health of patients as far back as the 1860s. Today the popularity of P.A.T animals is still gaining support and increasingly aiding the mental and physical recovery of patients.
So, how do animals make us happy?
1. Increase the Amount You Go Out
Dogs and horses, especially, increase the amount of time someone spends outside whether that be via training an animal, walking them or simply playing. Venturing outdoors increases happiness by allowing you to absorb Vitamin D, both improving our physical fitness and improving mental health conditions like depression. Alongside this, the unique sounds, smells and sights of the outdoors may lift your mood by both changing your surroundings and giving you something to focus on.
Spending time outside with your pet could, in fact, be a method of mindfulness which is a technique used to by many to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and low mood.
2. Animals often need exercise.
Examples of exercising with a pet could be walking your dog, cat or even a ferret or looking after/ riding a horse. Exercise causes endorphins (feel-good chemicals similar to similar chemicals to morphine) to be released, thus improving mood. Taking part in different exercises or activities will give you things to focus on other than your worries.
Exercising with your animal and focussing on them and what they choose to do will likely cheer you up. So, exercise with your pet will likely create happiness through multiple avenues.
3. Animals help to reduce stress.
Studies have shown that stroking/ grooming animals in a rhythmic fashion not only appears to increase their happiness but also increases the happiness and of the person and reduces their stress levels.
Focussing on the heat, movement, and hair texture of your pet allows you to be distracted from your worries and brings you down to earth. Also stroking your pet leads to a release of the hormone Oxytocin within both yours and your pet’s bodies. One role of Oxytocin is to create a bond between an animal/ human and their newly born offspring, meaning stroking your animal not only helps to calm you both down and increase your happiness but also strengthens the bond between you and your pet.
4. Pets Distract You From Your Worries
Unlike people, animals only live in the present, not towards the past or future. Spending time with your often optimistic pet helps ground you and results in keeping your mind in the moment. You no longer become overly engaged with your worries or problems.
The effect of this distraction is aided further if you are taking photos or videos of your pets. Here you’re focussing more on them and their antics even more, further distancing your mindset from any worries/ anxieties.
5. Pets help to Reduce Loneliness
Throughout domestication, dogs have become very good at reading human body language and facial expression. They recognise when people are feeling upset and distressed and often actively seek these people out if they are alone.
If you are alone and have a pet you can develop a lot of interactions between yourself and your pet. These interactions have proven to help reduce loneliness, increase happiness and reduce the severity of mental health issues, anxiety and stress.
Your pet will also make you feel more secure and helps you to develop a routine for their sake which will help you to keep people busy, stay motivated and reduce the amount you dwell over your problems. People tend o stick to routines better if they are doing it for others rather than themselves and routines alone, regardless of the presence of ainimals, lift people’s moods.
However, it has to be understood that buying pets just because you’re lonely is not the best idea. All pets are a big commitment. When buying one you must be prepared to care for them for potentially many years to come so you must not view them as a way to resolve a short-term situation. A dog for example, dependent on breed, can live to fifteen years old or more, Cats potentially longer and rabbits often eight to ten years and that’s not including the financial commitment.
6. Animals Are Great Listeners.
Your pet is non-judgemental, can’t tell other people your secrets/ fears and often stick close when you’re talking to them. You can talk to them without fear of repercussions. Many find talking to their pets often helps to sort out their thoughts and so they can help you feel happier and it can act like a miniature therapy session.
I, personally, talked to my dog about my problems and talked her through topics I was revising. It helped me sort through and analyse my thoughts but I’m not convinced she would have been able to sit through one of my Biochemistry exams for me!
7. Animals Provide Unconditional Love.
The issue with people is that if you do anything they don’t like they potentially will no longer care about you, though usually, this isn’t the case. Animals, however, don’t understand the complexities of life or are concerned by material goods. A dog constantly following you wanting a fuss helps to make you feel loved and therefore helps raise your self-worth and confidence, thus aiding with mental health issues and improving happiness.
8. Animals, especially Dogs, Aid you Socially
When walking a dog you often interact with other dog owners and walkers. Dog or animal lovers who are passing even without a dog are more likely to interact with you or your dog, increasing your human interaction. This helps to increase your self-worth which generally makes you happier and more confident.
Having a pet allows leads on to discussions with pet owners in other situations such as at the vets or on pet-related areas of social media. They also help by increasing your the social opportunities such joining dog walking groups, flyball and/ or agility teams and classes in obedience and showing to name a few. People doing these activities share the common interest of pets with you so it’s a conversation starter and leads to you developing more friends and connections. Having a greater number of connections reduces feelings of isolation, loneliness and withdrawal which, for many, increases happiness.
Conversely, however, having pets such as dogs or horses is a large time commitment which can reduce other areas of your social life. For instance, dogs shouldn’t be left alone for hours on end so you may not be able to spend as much time out with your friends as previously. Pets can also prevent you from booking that last-minute holiday offer as you can’t just drop everything and leave, you need to work around their needs. However, with some thought can have an active social life and pets; go on pet-friendly holidays, employ a dog walker or pet sitter and invite people around to your house instead, with their pets if they have any. This plan means your pet can also benefit from more snuggles, not only keeping you and your friends happy but increasing their happiness too.
9. Pets can Give You a Sense of Purpose
People with low mood often feel like they have little purpose. However, the presence of your pet gives you something to do, helps structure your life and gives you responsibility. You no longer can stay in bed all day; you now have to get up to feed, walk, play with and groom your pets. Purely getting out of bed helps keep your mind occupied, helps you focus on things other than your problems and increases your happiness.
If you become overwhelmed by negative thought or anxiety your pet’s needs and desires will give you something else focus and playing will also further distract you.
Pets do not judge, unlike people. If you help them you’ll be rewarded by their interaction and bond with you helping to raise your self-belief and lift your mood.
If you allow your child to look after appropriate pets they will help raise your child’s self-worth. The presence of your pet’s unconditional love and companionship helps improve your child’s confidence and create a positive self image. This not only improves your child’s happiness at the time but can potentially reduce the severity of mental health conditions they may experience then or in the future.
10. Watching Pets Makes you Smile And Smiling Makes You Happy
Watching the funny and cute antics of your furry friends will lead to you smiling. Smiling itself increases happiness. It not only is an outward sign to others that you feel good but it also causes Endorphins Serotonin and Dopamine to be released in your brain. These chemicals are present in, or enhanced by, anti-depressants and improve your mood. So, think of your pet as being your own little furry antidepressant which doesn’t require a doctors visit.
11. Playing with Pets Enhances Your Mood.
Most pets enjoy play. Play is an activity associated with childhood. As you grow you may no longer engage in play as much. However, playing with pets takes you back to your childhood, improving your mood and reducing your stress. Play also benefits your animals by creating mental stimulation and helping them to stay physically fit.
The same as with smiling, playing with pets leads to Serotonin and Dopamine being released into your brain, having an antidepressant-like effect without the side effects.
Another good resource showing the positive effects of dogs on your mental heal this an article entitled How Dogs Can Help with Mental Health – Mind Boosting Benefits of Dog Ownership. The article (for Dog Owner) compounds a large amount of research in the area into an easy piece of writing that you can keep coming back to.
Having your Own Pet is Impractical? How You can Spend Time with Animals
Though most people can benefit from having a pet, it isn’t always that simple. With so many people in rented housing where landlords refuse pets, pet ownership can be difficult. You may also not be able to own a pet due to the substantial cost of their upkeep, the commitment they require or you have health problems which prevent you owning any. If these apply to you, all is lost, there are other ways to interact with animals.
Many animals are kept in shelters. These all need companionship either in the form of fostering where the animal lives with you temporarily or, volunteering at shelters. Both of these allow you to care for/ spend time with animals in the short term without the longer term commitments. Volunteering not only helps you mix with animals but also increases your social circle which improves your mood.
Outside of volunteering, there are other opportunities to spend time with animals such as pet-sitting or dog walking which may produce some income; something that may further increase your self-confidence and happiness. You could also spend time with a relative or friend who owns a pet or, some people even find simply visiting a pet shop or children’s/ city farm is enough to help raise their mood.
To discuss in more detail how a pet may help you to become happy, ways in which you could safely spend time with animals or the best pet for you the contact me or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. If you want to read more of my blogs then feel free to put your email in the box to the right.