Newfoundlands are marvelous at eye contact.
They peel up the folds of thick skin that hang perpetually in front of the lids and stare deep into your soul, their bodies frozen in time as they concentrate all of their energy and consistent forward motion into staring deep into your soul.
When you lock eyes with one of them, it’s as if absolutely only you and them exist in this moment. Together. Frozen. Communicating.
The Newfs choose this manner of communication because first, there is something so intimate about eye contact, so raw and pure and personal and effective; and secondly, because unlike in the extremely realistic dream I had last night, dogs can’t talk.
There are three things I have heard the Newfoundlands say to me: first, that there is a raging force of love that transcends language barriers, age gaps, and species variations. Second, that there is much I have to learn about happiness from them. Third, that they would like me to please pet them, now please.
Hopefully I will learn more in the upcoming weeks about the first in order to solidify an idea of how to capture this force with words–as indeed the Nature around me is exuding the same lesson–but for now I would like to capitalize on the lessons I have learned concerning the second.
There is happiness in a dog. You look into Betty’s eyes, Vlado’s face, Monty’s strange leaping run that he does when he’s feeling “positively frivolous”–his words, not mine–and you cannot help but be exposed to it.
You see it when you hold up a finger, and declare, “sit, Chloe!”, and place the food bowl in front of her. Her body wiggles back in forth and she gives a decided grunt of contentedness as she barrels her face into the combination of thick pieces and Dog Chub.
You see it when you slide the collar over Ruby’s massive gigantic bear head and attach the leash with a skeptical click, as you and the leash exchange glances knowing that if Ruby were to unleash her full strength neither you nor the leash would have a chance. When you sit down at the beach overlooking the firth and gingerly, with long deliberate strokes, brush through her thick fur. She sits perfectly erect, almost as if she were watching Fight Club or perhaps entertaining the Queen for tea.
You see it when you come back from a run and click open the gate, and all of a sudden seven blobs of black come running full gallop at you, the folds of skin lagging in time and hanging in the air long after the paws have made contact with the concrete.
From what I gather, the happiness of the Newfoundland is based on a three-fold principle:
1. No expectations. Or at the least, very little.
They don’t expect you to feed them twice a day. But you do, and they are ecstatic about it, because any ideas of entitlement are entirely void. They don’t expect you to include them on your out-of-gate-experiences. But you do, you bring the leash and you invite them to join you in exploring the countryside. They don’t expect you to ever come back from a run, but you do, and when you do they surround you and thrust their black masses into your sweaty face and leave little black hairs all over your skin.
2. They’re not over-thinkers.
Dogs are extremely intelligent; more intelligent than we give them credit for. In fact, the light of my eyes, my own border collie Mackenzie, is my parent’s smartest child. No offense, brother mine.
But they don’t spend ages upon ages thinking about goals or about work or about life’s stresses. They don’t spend time contemplating life’s many mysteries or why we interact the way that we do.
They don’t over analyze the tricky practices of humanity like we do.
According to Mo Gawdat, author of Solve for Happy, the world’s most unhappy people are the thinkers.
I have the tendency to practice the art of “overthinking”, and these tendencies lead to my most unhappy times. I begin to question too much, to doubt too much, to lose security and to lose certainty.
I consider the future too much, or I set too many goals for myself. Suddenly I lose my contentedness, I lose my ability to be in the present and to enjoy the certainty of this moment; because quite honestly, nothing is certain outside of this moment.
Gawdat proposed the mathematical formula for happiness: that it is greater than or equal to the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be.
It’s not as simple as having “no expectations. Whatsoever. Ever.”, because then where does the motivation for human betterment come from? But it does include crafting expectations to be realistic, attainable, slightly out of reach (so as to prompt something to strive for), and exciting.
Which leads me to the third point:
3. They’re excited about everything.
The moment you peek your head up from under the thick warm covers, Flo comes bouncing on top of you, simply ecstatic that you are awake and she is awake and the world is awake and the birds are singing and it is simply a marvelous time to be alive!
What other times can one be rewarded for doing menial tasks–such as scooping diamond-shaped pieces of horse-hoof-mixture into a metal bowl day in and day out–than when working with dogs? Because they look at you like you are the world. When in reality, it’s truly your opposable thumbs and the fact that you can reach the dog food that has enabled you to complete this task.
Happiness, much like love, is something that transcends the human limitations we place upon so many things. It goes beyond borders, ages, heights, species…the forests exude happiness, the galls cry happiness, the water that we drink sings down our throats and tickles us with happiness.
Newfoundlands, the beautiful wonderful heathery Nature, getting to read and write and run so much…all of these things make me so so so happy. I am transfixed by the idea that I can make something as happy as it makes me.
And that, I think, is quite possibly how we make the world better.
Peace and Blessings,