The Puppiness Project – Don’t Take Things Personally

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

Golden Retriever with toy caterpillar

What’s that you say? Company is here? I’d better bring them a stuffie.

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 portrait

I’m beautiful. It’s just my nature.

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.

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  1. As is so often the case Pamela, you remind me of me. I worry about the same things, try to phrase things the right way and never, ever want to hurt someone’s feelings. Yet my own feelings so often times get hurt, yet I won’t say anything to the person who did it because I don’t want them to feel bad! LOL

    • I often wonder if we need to let people know when they hurt our feelings. After all, they’re struggling to figure things out just like we are.

      Personally, I think I’ll do much better if I can figure out how to keep myself from being so easily hurt. It must be a zen master kind of thing. :)

  2. Great advice, dogs are smarter than people in a lot of ways.

  3. Honey is such a good teacher. Sometimes we take responsibility for other people’s actions and reactions. Also, it’s not easy to feel misunderstood. I love that Honey keeps trying with your mom. What an absolutely sweet thing to do.

  4. It’s so interesting to read this piece, because I used to worry over the same things all of the time. I still worry a little now and then, but a whole lot less than I used to do. I used to think of it as a sort of self-flagellation (self-beating). I hated it, but couldn’t stop.
    Somewhere along the way, I got tougher. I don’t worry about offending and hurting everyone’s feelings all of the time. It doesn’t mean I never worry, but I beat myself up a little less than I used to do. I wish I knew what changed it for me (maybe having my own business?), but I certainly prefer being more like Honey. Dogs teach us so much don’t they?

    • Most women I talk to eventually arrive at a point where they care less about what other people think. Some of them tell me it happens after they pass through their 50s. The smart ones figure it out faster. :)

  5. Oh man, Pamela, have you struck a nerve with this one. I was morbidly shy as a kid in certain ways and, while I’ve taught myself how to survive in public, I’ve actually gotten worse in private suffering from social anxiety to the point where if I end up telling stories at lunch table, I’ll have panic attacks over it in the middle of the night. I know I have to let it go – so what if I say something stupid or embarrass myself a bit? If that even happens, it’s not the end of the world.

    It’s funny to me that the people who are probably least likely to hurt or offend others are so hard on themselves. We give everyone but us the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s time to take Honey’s lesson to heart after all?

    • It might even be true that being the kind of person who is hard on herself makes us less likely to hurt or offend others. I hope I’m wrong.

      There must be some way to be as kind to ourselves as we try to be to others.

  6. If you were reading my blog before I took over, you probably know that my peoples is a major worrier too, and that was one of the things she still worries about. Always worrying about other peoples isn’t healthy, I tell her, and she should just be herself.

    As for me, I’m not like Honey at all. If someone doesn’t want to play with me I will pester them until my peoples have to leash me or remove me from the situation. I don’t understand the concept of not wanting to play with a dog. All peoples should want to play with us, because, well, we’re cute.

    • Toby, you are definitely right that everyone should want to play with dogs. It’s good for us. :)

      Your person is lucky to have such a happy-go-lucky boy to show her the way to worry less.

  7. My mother in law can’t stand my dogs, whenever she comes over she tells them to get away from her. It drives me crazy and I just want to tell her not to come over anymore than. She lives next door so it happens more than once a day everyday.

    I use to worry about the same things as you, sometimes I still do, it really depends on who I am dealing with. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, ever, but then again if I hold back my thoughts or words than I am not being true to myself?

    • Mike Webster says:

      From the Husband, who has spent some considerable time of his own with Jen’s last question:

      Jen, it depends on what specifically you’re holding back, because we are not all one thing. Rather, we are capable of quite a mix of good and evil thoughts, words and behaviors.

      We must learn how to be true to ourselves; and, also, how to share ourselves. That is, we must own ourselves, and we must give ourselves away.

      Being true to ourselves, however, does not require expressing every single thing that occurs spontaneously to us while sharing ourselves, but rather requires coming to terms with the entire truth about ourselves as best we can–strengths and weaknesses, selfish and selfless impulses, good and evil–in advance of the sharing. As we learn self-ownership (and we never do learn it completely), it becomes easier to know which parts of ourselves we should give away, and which parts are best disposed of in another way. :)

      • Hi Mike!
        I have read this over a few times to allow it to sink in. First, thank you for the very well thought out response. I think that I personally hold back a lot of speaking my beliefs. I feel as though sometimes I do not stand up enough for what I believe in , but like you said, maybe I have come to terms with that and I am just choosing my battles wisely.

  8. I remember when I was an adolescent, I was joking around with a friend. My group often made fun of each other in a light, easy going sort of way, so I thought nothing of it when I jokingly teased this friend about something weird she had said. My friend did not take it the way I intended, unfortunately, and didn’t speak to me for a long time after. I tried apologizing a million times but she wasn’t interested. I still feel awful about it to this day and can remember her expression very well. I’d still take it back if I could.

    Do we ever get over the experiences of youth? I am sure I have inadvertantly hurt people as an adult, but I remember this incident with my friend much more vividly.

    • I wonder if our childhood experiences have such a big impact on us because we have so few memories already cluttering up our brains. :)

      I hope you can forgive yourself for a simple, young person’s mistake.

      Recently I was wondering if I was doing anything worthwhile in the Puppiness Project. It’s been feeling like I’m traveling familiar territory. But then the comments show me that we all need to hear the same lesson over and over again…we need to learn to be as kind to ourselves as we are to our pups.

  9. Good advice from Honey. Like dogs, people forget most of what has occurred and remember about your interactions mostly their part of it. Unlike dogs, most people are thinking only about themselves, what they’ll say, how they’ll be received. Not about the other person. Honey really is a good example.

    • Such a great way of putting it. Narcissism really does us in.

      BTW, I’ve had trouble commenting on your blog. I loved the pix from the dog party. But when I tried to leave a comment, it kept telling me I copied the captcha wrong even though I had perfectly copied it. is there a secret code? :)

      • I hate blogs that do that. I’m so sorry that mine does. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it stop. Looks like it’s time to find an outside party to help. :(

  10. I am a good reader of people…. I just charge forward anyway. Woo woo!!!!

  11. I remember very early in my working life, I had a girl friend who was both my housemate and colleague. She could be female doggy and one day I said so. She got very upset and said I had called her a female dog. Somehow in my head, I thought “you can be female doggy” was quite different from “you are a female dog” but anyway, I apologised, she never spoke to me again and that was that. I sure carry a lot of useless baggage in my head. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to get rid of that one.

    I worry all the time about offending people, though less and less as I grow older. Cushion says I’m a pushover. You couldn’t tell that from my blog, could you? :)

    • So did you leave that bit of baggage here not to pick it up again? Good for you. It’s an unhappy memory must better left behind than all the fun things you’ve been cleaning out of your closet.

      I keep waiting to hit the magic spot where I care less about what other people think. It would be nice to wake up and feel suddenly “cool” but I suspect I have a lot more grief to put myself through until I evolve into a self-confident crone. :)

  12. It’s like you read my mind and said it so much more clearly than I could articulate it! I worry all the time in new social situations that I’ll say or do the wrong thing. I can’t imagine you ever offending anybody, though!

  13. How funny….Elka has been trying to woo my grandmother each time we visit. She puts her head on her, looks up with those eyes, and sighs so very soulfully. Granted, food may have been involved.

  14. I’m sorry Pamela, did I hurt your feelings? lol That’s about what I feel like all of the time. I know I’m hurting somebody even when I didn’t do anything wrong. (I think) :)

    I’m the same way. I can remember things from grade school that still make me worry where I screwed up with this friend or another. Or something I said that still stays with me when I think about it. Wouldn’t it be nice to just shake off all those feelings like a dog after a bath and roll in the dirt? Be so much easier. :)

  15. Typist is a lot like you so she tries to remember the saying ‘don’t worry about what people think about you, 90% of the time they aren’t! (Ok so she changed the exact wording slightly but the sentiment is there!) She spends so long worrying about things when she should just be enjoying them, for example when she went to get her degree she spent the entire walk across the stage worrying about how to hold her hands rather than enjoying the moment, then once she had collected she thought oh dear that was it and I missed it!
    I know it is easier said then done, but just be you! Your pretty ace!!

  16. Well, what can I say. I have a human that comes round and he doesn’t like dogs. I’ve got a different approach to Honey. I lick him. I sit on his feet. I nudge his hands and I puppy dog eye him. If the lick and the sit and the nudge doesn’t work, puppy dog eyes ALWAYS do. *wag wag wag*

  17. Great article! We have so much to learn from dogs – their gentle nature and forgiving attitude is something to be admired.

  18. There must be something in the air — I blogged today about trying not to take things personally, in my case the comments of an archivist who, I felt, had insulted my great uncle. That’s one of the reasons I miss dog blogging — I no longer take Frankie’s example to guide my behavior as much as I did in the past. Of course Frankie thinks everything is about him, which I suppose is one form of taking things personally!