Like many others, we purchased a puppy during the Corona Quarantine. The Redheaded-Wildflower named him Sir Winston. Royal! He’s a liver and white English Springer Spaniel and a delightful addition to our family during one of the weirdest seasons I’ve ever lived in.
Unaffected by world affairs, Sir Winston has become our Zen Master of happiness!
I thought I’d share with you a few of the ways Sir Winston has taught us (so far) to be happy.
Wag your tail
Sir Winston boasts a bobbed, white-tipped tail he hoists like a flag whenever there’s fun afoot. It shoots up at the sight of food, people, his blue and orange alligator, the white miller moths flitting around the grass, leaves blowing, droplets of water from the sprinkler, his own reflection in the mirror, and the load he’s just dropped on the carpet.
“Look what I did!” his tail brags. It’s hard to be mad at him even then.
And that’s the point. It’s hard to be cross with someone who exhibits that much enthusiasm for life. Misery may love company but tail-wagging creates a party.
The Apostle Paul said, “. . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
And then wag your tail at the beauty you’ve found.
During COVID, the Redheaded-Wildflower and I have daily strolled our greenbelt surrounded by ash trees, pines, aspens, bunnies, woodpeckers, flowers, and hummingbirds. But Sir Winston finds many more interesting things. He sniffs out light poles, grass blades, branches, footprints, odors on the breeze, and several things I can’t name.
He’s perpetually curious and has reminded me that the word I chose as a guide through 2020 was not fearful but curious. Experts say curiosity adds positivity and happiness to our lives. But the fear and apprehension smothering our current lives kills curiosity and happiness.
Pre-Winston people walking near averted their eyes as if the Dread Virus Corona is transmitted by eye contact. Sir Winston is fearlessly curious sniffing even their legs.
We’ve lived in our current home for twelve years. I’ve worked in the yard, barbecued on the porch, mowed the lawn, entertained under the tree lights, and fought battles with deer and rabbits. But I’ve never played in the grass so much as this last month with Sir Winston. Everything he sees is a toy.
Except deer poop. Deer poop is not to be toyed with. Deer poop is a serious gourmet meal!
Hanging out on the lawn with Sir Winston, I’ve resisted the urge to pick weeds or do something equally futile but supposedly productive. I’ve simply thrown sticks or balls or marveled at our twelve pound streak of liver and white lightning. He has reminded me of when I was a kid when I would plop down in the summer grass and watch clouds.
Efficiency experts rolled over in their early graves. But those were transformational moments that let me think and feel and be formed into who God created me to be. Sir Winston has shown me I still need those transformational child-like times.
Deal With Your Shit
Dog trainer extraordinaire Brandon McMillan claims the best way to stop a dog from digging is to plant a piece of the dog’s own poop in the hole and cover it. I was skeptical. But sure enough Sir Winston was making like a mini-dozer and I found one of his dog-ends and dropped it in the hole. He sniffed it (he’s a dog!) but he has never dug in that spot again.
Like most of us, dogs don’t want to deal with their own shit either. By that I mean the ugly, dirty stuff that derails so many of us in life. Secret sins. Harbored hates. Jewel-like jealousies. Debilitating self-doubts.
As a pastoral counselor, I can’t number the times people have sidled into my office hoping for me to toss them a Bible verse or pop-psychology slogan like a dog bone they can bury with their mistakes, pain, and wounds. But true transformation calls for digging into that shit. I wrote about dealing with my own in my blog “Why I’m in Therapy. And Maybe You Should Be Too.”
True health and happiness comes when we expose our wounds to the salt and light of God.
Take a Nap
It’s obvious when Sir Winston is tired. He bites, more than usual, and runs around like a dervish. Finally he collapses at my feet, sometimes mid-dervish! Humans bite with words and pretend our dervishes are important projects that the world will fall apart without. Sir Winston holds no such pretension. He listens to his body.
Sad? Climb in someone’s lap.
Happy? Wag your tail.
And he always wakes waging his tail! We would all be healthier if we took more naps.
If you need a higher napping authority than Sir Winston, Professor Richard Wiseman agrees. A short nap will “make you more focused, productive and creative.” And happy!
Live for Treats
All I have to do to attract Sir Winston’s attention is rattle the treat bag or crinkle a random piece of paper. Suddenly he’s on me like slobber. Treats are major motivation for him.
Brandon McMillan uses rewards and praise for all of his dog training. McMillan works mainly with rescue dogs, patiently, gently training them to do what he asks right on camera.
I can relate. I’m basically a rescue dog. I have more blemishes, wounds, and scars than Darth Vader. Many of them self-inflicted. Yet God has never yelled at me, beat me, shamed me. God has corrected, gently, though the truth burns.
When I told God I was a better father than he could ever dream of being, God whispered to my soul, “That’s blasphemy, Eugene. You’ll see I love your daughter more than you ever could.” And then God poured grace on my exposed wounds.
Obviously, lessons about happiness are not only glimpsed from a dog’s eye view. Wonder surrounds us all like the air we breathe. But Sir Winston lives life with his eyes wide. Except when he’s napping.
Sometimes when I’m training him, he stares at me with those mesmerizing puppy eyes, expectant, even adoring. Looking into his brown eyes, I’ve wondered if I adore God with that much wonder. Sometimes.
Unfortunately I’m as distractible as Sir Winston.
I know, however, the moments I’ve been happiest have been when captured by the wonder God has strewn all around like so much holy detritus. Of all the things Sir Winston has reminded me of, wonder outshines them all.
Gospel writer Mark tells us, “As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.”
I’m convinced Sir Winston would have been among those people nipping at their heels and overwhelmed with wonder. And I would have been chasing after him!