The Puppiness Project – Stop Feeling so Guilty

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.

I can make a guilt-fest out of anything. Sadistic dictators in the Middle East? Yeah, that’s my fault because I still own a car (I’m sure our government is propping up violent regimes to keep my Subaru gassed up). How about Kentuckians having their wells poisoned by mountain-top removal to get coal? Yup, that’s me too. I should have just moved closer to the window instead of turning on that (fluorescent) reading light.

I even feel guilty from good things, nice things, like receiving a Stylish Blogger award from Vicky at Paw Print City Times. I feel guilty that I was too tired to write a better thank you post. I feel guilty that I somehow failed to add No Dog About It Blog to the award list, especially since Mel has such a great post about pet stores here. I feel guilty that my 7 things list wasn’t more interesting.

Guilt is a waste of time. I prefer "fetch."

Pitiful. And narcissistic. Time to get a lesson from Honey.

You see, dogs don’t feel guilt. People project it onto their dogs.

Honey does what she needs to do and then she moves on. Hubby leaves his boots on the rug in front of the door? Honey just brings one up to the couch to sniff and nibble on. She doesn’t ask herself, “Did I bring the boot upstairs the right way?” Or, God forbid, “Should I be chewing on the boot at all?” Honey just does what she needs to do and then she moves onto the next thing.

Honey is not the only critter who has things to teach me. I’ve been reading William Powers’ Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid & Beyond the American Dream. In the book, William’s mentor, Jackie, shares her mantra for taking positive action: “See, Be, Do.” And the “Be” in that phrase does not stand for “be guilty.” It means be present in yourself before striking out to take action.

And that’s why I keep coming back to the same doggy lesson over and over again. Dogs are Zen masters at living in the moment. No room for guilt. No room for regrets. If we could combine dog centeredness with human intellect, we could change the world.

So with Honey’s help, I’m going to let go of the guilt. I’m going to live in the moment and bring my outer life into greater harmony with my inner values. I will spend less time feeling guilty and more time taking concrete steps to increase my life’s sustainability. And I’ll learn how to enjoy the community that comes with a fun blogging award.

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  1. I am so guilty of this that I feel guilty for feeling guilty. I have a lot of theories on this many of them feminist in nature so I will spare you (but I am sure you have noticed how it is primarily women who deal with this issue). My guilt stems a lot from feelings of inadequacy. Dogs rarely worry about being good enough. Even when they make mistakes, I don’t think they feel guilt. Fear perhaps, if the dog is sensitive, but not guilt. I highly doubt my dog lies awake at night wondering how she could have tried harder, been better, worrying that she has hurt someone’s feelings.

    Good on you for letting go of the guilt. Maybe I will give it a try as well. Though I already feel guilty for wanting to. 😛

    • Good point about dogs not worrying about being good enough. When Honey and I hit a training standstill, she only worries about how to get the liver treat. :)

      Yeah, feminist theory is a bit heavy for 6:30 a.m. but you’re right that I don’t find self-castigation in many of the male bloggers I read. To be fair, however, I think their bigger problem is feeling intense pressure to be a “provider.” Lucky for them, our society is set up to help them succeed in that area so many don’t have to feel like a failure (until the economy tanks).

      So try, try, try to get rid of the guilt. Tell yourself it’s your duty to improve the lot of women everywhere.

  2. OMG – this is so me too! I feel guilty that I want to eat meat (I’m a vegetarian)! I feel guilty that my dogs wait at home for me while I train other people’s dogs, etc. Thanks for such an inspirational blog – this has truly motivated me!

  3. I totally relate. Especially where Sadie is concerned. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. No more. Thanks for a lovely post.

    • And of course, we’ll both fall off the wagon when we forget. That’s why we need to Look to the Dog for wisdom.

  4. Guilty of feeling guilty too! And yes, it is a woman thing! It comes with the role of caretaker– did I feed them the right food, buy the right clothes, oh no, the colours ran in the wash, must find a black shirt for the school play… that sort of thing. And I absolutely feel guilty about what my dog eats and his lack of exercise. In fact, after writing two separate posts about it, the Spouse said, “Stop with the guilt already!”

    I do, however, think dogs experience guilt too; the difference is they don’t live there. When Our Best Friend poops in the neighbour’s yard, and I yell and stick him in his bed for two hours, you can see he knows he did wrong and is covered in shame. But the minute I let him out, the guilt falls off his back the way he sheds his winter coat in spring. He never goes back. And he’ll poop in the neighbour’s yard again without any guilt if I don’t catch him at it. We find it much more difficult to let go of our guilt, especially if we repeat the “offense” a second (or third!) time. I applaud your effort to live in the moment, and to try not to carry guilt in your heart, especially for things that, in the long run, won’t matter. Just don’t go knocking over any liquor stores; no matter how you feel about it, the judge will still pronounce you “guilty!” :)

    • Boy, it’s a good thing I decided to reply to my comments this morning. I was just thinking about robbing a liquor store. :)

  5. today, i feel guilty that i haven’t been reading or commenting on any blog for a couple of days. i feel guilty that i’ll probably be too tired to do it today too. i feel guilty that i’m not awake enough to do more than cook the dog vegies and maybe vacuum the house.

    if it really does have something to do with being a WOMAN, do you think it’ll get better with menopause? i live in hope. meantime, A CHEER!!! for pamela who’s letting go!

    p.s. did you forget to mention hubbies don’t have much guilt either?

    • I’m holding out hope that getting older will help. I have some really spunky women friends in their 50s who seem to be moving in that direction. And I have one friend in her late 70s who has absolutely eliminated guilt. She says and does what she pleases. She says she’s too old to worry about what other people think.

      If only we could learn those lessons faster.

      As the spouse of a “guilt-ridden” hubby, I can’t agree with your P.S. across the board. But the guilt definitely takes a different path.

  6. Okay, I feel weird, because I’m not much of a guilt carrier. I guess that when I really am guilty of something, I am pretty hard on myself, but I don’t look for things to feel guilty about. I grew up with some serious emotional manipulators and I just reached a point where I had to distance myself from a lot of that, I guess. I always think of myself as a work in progress with room for improvement, but I’ve learned that if I’m not kind to myself, nobody else will be.

    • Good for you! You’ve incorporated the lesson that we all need to learn.

      Now, if you could teach that, I guarantee you’d become a millionaire in a very short time. I’m hearing from several women commenting on this post who would probably sign up for the webinar.

  7. Great post, Pamela! Guilt is a complete waste of energy. I’m with you – let’s be as kind and forgiving to ourselves as we are to others. And, until we break the feeling guilty habit, let’s vow to play with our dogs whenever that fun suck sneaks in … because we can’t play and feel guilty at the same time!

    • Yeah, Amy. That’s a great idea–you are so right that we can’t play and be guilty at the same time. Yet another reason to Look to the Dog.

  8. I’ve just seen this post – that serves me right for not checking out my favourite blogs often enough! Gosh, I feel guilty now!
    You make such an important point here. I think a lot of us fight feelings of guilt at least sometimes in our lives, and if you analyse it, these are very often related to silly things that shouldn’t worry us in the first place. Who cares if I’ve burnt the food, not replied to a message or crossed the road to avoid my nosy neighbour? None of these will have long term harmful events on the universe.
    I remember that, when I was a child, I once lost a small amount of money that my mum had sent me to the shops with to buy some milk. I came home crying, and when my mum asked me what was wrong, I said that I was feeling guilty for losing the money. She smiled and called me a silly girl for crying over insignificant things. She said that it’s only worth feeling guilty if you’ve done bad things that affect other people. Otherwise, your worries and guilt will stop you from living a happy and fulfilling life. I wasn’t sure what she was on about then, but I understand it better now. Your post has just reminded me of that. Thank you.


    P.S. I’ve just taken a look at George who’s asleep in his dad’s chair. He looks happy and doesn’t seem to be feeling at all guilty that he brought a bucketful of mud into the house this morning. Maybe I should look at him more often.