Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.
The well-dressed Golden Retriever…
A Golden Retriever feels naked without something in her mouth. When Honey gets up, she rushes out of the room to find a toy before jumping on the bed to go back to sleep. When we get home from work, she goes scurrying around for a bone before greeting us at the door.
One of Honey’s favorite toys is a butterfly stuffie I bought at the Salvation Army thrift store. She carries it all over the house.
But recently, her butterfly gave her a scare.
Honey carried the foot long, stuffed butterfly into the backyard. When she tried to climb the back steps to return inside, she stumbled on the dangling Lepidoptera and took a little tumble down the steps. Since then, she’s been hesitant to carry any soft item up the stairs, even when it’s very small and obviously not a tripping hazard.
Distracted by minor fears.
Humans evolved to be cautious. That’s what’s allowed us to stay at the top of the food chain for millenia. But do you ever think about what frightens us?
Most Americans step into a car with no fear whatsoever despite it being the most risky thing many of us do. And yet, speaking in public or changing jobs or letting go of bad relationships fill us with terror.
I have some wacky fears compared to many people. As my husband tells me, I have no idea just how weird I am. For instance, I am afraid of driving. I hate cars. I’m fearless in any urban neighborhood that has signs of life but get creeped out sitting alone in someone’s living room in the country with the blinds up. And although I’m a fearless (and entertaining, so I’m told) public speaker, if I thought I was actually going to earn some money at it, I’d probably puke.
There are any number of interesting and great things I could do that involve driving, being alone, and earning money. But I continually let little fears hold me back. And sometimes, I don’t even see that I’m sabotaging myself.
I’m like that Golden Retriever at the bottom of the steps scared of tripping over a ball of fuzz in my mouth.
Breaking through fear – Honey style.
I’ve done a few things to help Honey with her fear. The first one is to take the butterfly away from her before she goes down the steps. The second is to encourage her to keep trying when she’s frightened of something I know won’t hurt her.
The other day I watched with joy as she hesitated a few times at the bottom step with a small piece of plush in her mouth before galloping up with a look of pride on her face.
Honey has learned that she’s not going to fall every time she carries a soft object up the steps.
Breaking through fear – Pamela style.
One of my Facebook friends recently posted a link to an article in which a hospice nurse talked about the most common regrets she hears from her dying patients. Do you want to know what they are?
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Did you notice that three of the five regrets were caused by lack of courage?
I, like Honey, am also hesitating at the foot of the stairs. I worry that I’m going to fall without considering that a minor fall isn’t the end of the world (Honey never hurt herself either).
One of the most valuable traits a human can have is resiliency—the ability to pick up and move forward after a setback. If you’re a parent, the best thing you can teach your children is how to come through a bad experience and move on. And it’s something we all need to develop even if we didn’t gain it in our own upbringing.
For now, I’m keeping the five regrets of the dying in the forefront of my mind as a cautionary tale. I don’t want to be filled with regrets because I lacked courage.
And I’ll keep working toward climbing those stairs carrying an obstacle knowing it’s worth it to fall a couple of times if I get to soar triumphantly up to the landing in the end.