Who’s Happier? Dogs or Humans?

Seems like a dumb question, doesn’t it?

Of course dogs are happier. Just look at those wagging tails and floppy grins.

Happy dog in a field.

And what do they have to be unhappy about—especially in a loving, forever home?

They don’t have to work for a living. They get all their meals prepared for them.

So what if we occasionally dress them in costumes or make them sit quietly when they want to bark. Is that such a huge price to pay?

But scientists have recently learned what characterizes a happy life. So let’s look at the data and see if dogs or humans are happier.

7 Secrets Of A Happy Life

Based on years of research, scientists have identified key behaviors that make humans happy.

Do they also apply for dogs? And when we compare dogs and humans, who is more likely to do the things that science shows us makes people happier?

Happy boy jumps in India.

1. Have strong social relationships.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more likely to make humans happy than loving and being loved. People with strong social relationships are most likely to be happy.

What do you think? Is that true for dogs too?

You betcha. Sociability is part of dog DNA.

And dogs have less complicated relationships. They don’t wonder if their mothers could have done more to encourage them as puppies or blame their fathers for sniffing instead of spending time with them. They don’t worry that their Facebook friends are having more fun than they are.

So if you’re a human with strong friendships and loving relationships (and if you live with dogs, I guarantee you have both of those), good for you.

But I suspect that in a side-by-side comparison, dogs might have the edge on this happiness factor.

Hound Mix and Golden Retriever Playing

You can’t get much closer than this.

2. Fill your days.

Is your idea of heaven to win the lottery and have nothing to do? It might be nice to think about. But it probably won’t make you happy.

Research shows that people are happiest when they have plenty to do but not so much that they feel frantic. And what should they be doing? Activities that allow them to use their strengths.

Is it also true for dogs?

I think so. You’ve heard the phrase, “A tired dog is a happy dog,” right?

I truly believe that dogs with jobs are happier than dogs with little to do. That job might be chasing rabbits out of the yard. Or checking p-mail on a walk. Or running an agility course. Or listening to a youngster read.

If we were just talking about dogs who live with Something Wagging readers, I might give dogs the edge here too. But I don’t think the average American dog has it so good. So I’d give humans the win here for being more likely to spend their days doing work that uses their strengths.

3. Quit work you hate.

According to happy, older people, there is no bigger waste than working at a job you hate.

Unfortunately, that’s a luxury not available to every human. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Even if it makes you miserable.

Luckily for dogs, they’re no longer made to pull carts or turn spits. And unless you’re a tyrant, you probably can’t make your dog do something she doesn’t want to do. Ask me some day how much luck I’ve had getting Honey to swim.

So when it comes to avoiding dreaded jobs who is happier? It’s got to be dogs. They don’t have to quit bad jobs. They don’t do them to begin with.

Honey the Golden Retriever

I’ve scheduled a little time with my favorite food toy.

4. Schedule happy activities.

Most people know what makes them feel good. But they rarely do it.

If you want to be happy, pencil happy-making activities onto your calendar. You’re more likely to do them if you set the time aside in advance.

Is this true for dogs?

Not a bit. I’ve never seen any indication that the canine brain is capable of pre-planning (but I can’t wait to see the comment from someone with a great story to prove me wrong).

So it looks like the humans win on this one.

Honey the Golden Retriever smiles.

You mean being cute isn’t meaningful enough?

5. Live a meaningful life.

Some of my child-free friends chortled when they read that couples without children are more happy than couples with children.

Well, duh. What’s happy about changing diapers or chauffering kids to band practice compared to happy hour with friends or a quiet night in watching movies?

But when parents look back on their lives, they claim that raising children is one of their most fulfilling accomplishments. What that means is that there is a difference between happiness in the moment and feeling a sense of purpose.

It’s great if you can have both.

Can dogs?

Once again, I don’t believe canine brains are wired to create meaning in their lives.

When it comes to happiness in the moment dogs definitely beat humans. But when it comes to having a meaningful life, humans win again.

6. Give, but not endlessly.

Helping others makes people happy.

That means that caregivers with an ailing parent should be ecstatic, right?

No, because if you give so much that you become exhausted, you’ll get depressed. (Life lesson: if you know someone who is a caregiver, do something to relieve their burden. It will make both of you happier.)

My golden retriever, Honey, gives me a lot. She cuddles on the couch, keeps me company while I’m working, and provides hours of entertainment.

But she’s also selfish. And when it’s time for bed, or dinner, she lets me know.

Most dogs don’t give until it hurts. While many humans (especially women humans) do.

Humans have more capacity to help others than dogs do. But most dogs will stop giving before it makes them sick. So I’d call this a human dog tie.

Honey the Golden Retriever is a dog who likes to kayak.

Am I happier because I’m experiencing being in a kayak? Or because I’m getting treats?

7. Collect experiences, not stuff.

If you think people can gain happiness by buying things, just visit a few yard sales. How much stuff do humans buy just to give it away after barely using it?

To be happy, take a class. Or a trip. Go for a walk.

And if you simply must buy stuff (because you’re an American and it’s bred into us before birth), spend your money on things that bring you new experiences, like good walking shoes, a kayak, or an enthralling book.

Honey loves her toys. But not just so she can have a collection. Honey’s toys are a doorway to an experience, like meeting a new friend or playing tug.

So do dogs have the edge?

Maybe not. Because anticipating experiences (along with the memories afterwards) makes us happy. And humans have a greater capacity than dogs to anticipate the future.

It’s not that dogs don’t anticipate the future. They definitely do. Just shake a box of dog treats, pull the leash off a hook, or ask “who wants to go for a ride?” to see your dog’s anticipatory powers at work.

But your dog doesn’t look forward to his next vacation the way you do.

So dogs get points for not being consumerist junkies and humans get points for our amazing ability to look forward to experiences and remember them afterwards.

Honey and Pam at the Ithaca festival.

Who’s happier?

Who’s Happier? Dogs Or Humans?

So who’s happier? According to my absolutely biased and totally non-scientific review, humans have a slight edge.

But we’re testing happiness based on research about what makes humans happy. Someday dog psychology will catch up and we’ll have a list of what’s most likely to make dogs happy.

And then it will be our job to stop getting in the way of our dog’s happiness. Like it’s our job now to stop getting in the way of our own.
photo credits: (Happy Dog) mjk23 via photopin cc. (Jumping Boy) VinothChandar via photopin cc. Click on the images to learn more about the photographer.

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  1. This is a fabulous post!!! We wish everyone was this positive! There is nothing that makes me happier to see my dogs happy! Have a great day!

  2. Great post Pamela. I say all the time, I want to come back as one of my dogs. What a life dogs lead. No worries, lots of love and fun. Perfect.

  3. Great list. I think the fact that we live in the moment helps us to be happier. My sister Katie is not always happy. Mom says she has been moody her entire life, which is one thing she loves about the GBGV breed, we are always happy.

  4. I was going to say something meaningful but I can’t get the worlds out, but I didn’t want to say nothing, but I think my comment would perhaps bring a little negativity to a very positive place so instead I will love visiting your blog. You rock!

  5. They keys to being happy are great! Another one is Let go of worrying about things you can’t change and trust (depending upon your faith.). I think dogs have the edge on this one. While they feel anxious in stressful situations, I don’t think they spend much time worrying about things in the past or future. Maybe that brings up another one: Live in the Moment.

  6. Dogs are happier, because they don’t allow the little stuff get to them. When I got home yesterday, I had a migraine and was focused on escaping the sun, I felt bad, because I guy greeted me on the train and I wasn’t very enthusiastic (in pain), and there are 3 people on my FB sh&t list right now.

    But when the dogs saw me, they were just happy that I was home and wanted to know what we were going to do next. Best medicine ever! That, my migraine pills, and a nap in a dark room :)

  7. 3,5 & 7 are my fav’s. I so agree with them….

  8. Great post! Humans might have a slight edge, but I think it is easier for humans to make their own misery. But even a dog with a not-so-happy life can find happiness in the smallest things.

  9. Great happiness article! I do believe dogs, in general, lead a happier life than humans. And one of their greatest purposes in life is to make sure their human companions grasp the happy moments. Dogs fulfill this purpose quite well, if we but pay attention.