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.
Honey Never Gives Up
My mother loves dogs. She just doesn’t like wet noses, dog breath, shedding, or being licked.
As long as Honey sits far away looking cute, she’s fine. But when she approaches my mom to solicit attention, my mother, an instinctive master of clear canine communication, crosses her arms and looks away.
When I see Honey headed toward my mom, I quietly tell her, “Leave it” and she listens. But if I miss the approach, my mom’s cross-arm signal is usually clear enough to convince Honey to try another target.
Although Honey’s advances are always rebuffed, Honey doesn’t take it personally.
When my mom visits, Honey is as excited as if she was any other member of the Honey fan club. She doesn’t try to put her head between my mom’s legs to get butt scratches or dance around her ankles.
But she trots around the foyer happily with a toy in her mouth hoping that maybe, just this once, she’ll get a little pet from my mom.
Extroverts Don’t Always Have Good People Skills
I’m as much of an extrovert as Honey is. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as cute and I’m terrible at reading body language.
I fumble my social interactions all the time. Which is probably true of many people. The bigger problem is that I feel bad about my fumbles for a looooonnnnng time.
When I was in high school, my bus driver assigned seats (!). Yes, really! I shared the back seat of the bus with a blonde cheerleader who lived a few blocks away from me.
One day we got into a fight.
I have no idea what the fight was about. But I got very angry and called her a female dog. I have no idea what she called me. It probably wasn’t better, that’s for sure.
While walking home from the bus, I felt terrible remorse for my behavior and for calling my seat mate a name. The first thing I did on the bus the next morning was apologize.
The cheerleader laughed at me. She thought it was the funniest thing in the world.
The crazy thing is that all these years later, I don’t feel bad that the cheerleader was a bitch. I only feel bad about myself. And I continually worry that during any interaction with someone else I’m going to do the wrong thing—I’ll hurt someone’s feelings, I’ll ignore something important to someone, I’ll fail to express gratitude.
And what’s even more stupid is that the concern about doing the wrong thing doesn’t make me any more likely to do the right thing. It’s just useless worry. The kind of worry Honey is not subject to.
Do What Ya Gotta Do
Honey understands my mom really doesn’t want to play with her. That’s why she doesn’t drop her soggy toys in my mom’s lap like she would with us. Or why she doesn’t get closer than a foot to greet my mom at the door.
But Honey still makes her gentle approaches. It’s her nature. She has to give my mom another chance because maybe this time she’ll win her over and get some lovies for her trouble.
I could no sooner argue with someone without apologizing than Honey could meet someone without wanting to be their friend.
I need to look to Honey as an example. I need to do what I feel is right and not worry about someone else’s response. If someone rebuffs my offer of friendship, that’s their problem, not mine. I need to be true to my nature, like Honey is to hers.
And I need to remember that if someone else doesn’t want to play with me, I can always get into a little mischief with my good friend Honey.