One of my favorite childhood books written by the late, great cartoonist and philosopher Charles Shultz is the classic “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.” What’s so special about this little book? I think it holds a fundamental secret to Western man’s (and woman’s) search for that elusive state of being, joy. What Mr. Shultz knew, and my sister, Naomi shared with me when she first read me this book on my fifth birthday is that joy does not come from extravagances. It’s the little things in life that make us happy. In this simple text, the author recites numerous things that bring us pleasure and ultimately, happiness.
For instance, happiness, Mr. Shultz says, is a new raincoat and umbrella. I couldn’t agree more. Getting your basic needs met, such as staying warm and dry can bring great happiness especially if you’ve previously experienced the state of being cold and wet. Taking joy in an umbrella also implies that you know how to be grateful for the smallest of treasures. In a culture where amassing material wealth remains top priority, we often forget this truth; Gratefulness for whatever we have, no matter how small, is a skill that when practiced, not only brings us joy, but a higher state of grace.
The wisdom of this book doesn’t end with a commentary on materialism and thankfulness. It touches on something deeper than that. When Mr. Shultz tells us that happiness is a warm puppy I think he’s referring to the relationships we make, especially the ones that require us to give fully of ourselves. A few years ago, my training partner, Zach informed me that he was conducting a tri-state area search for a new dog. More than anything else he wanted a rescue puppy. I must admit, I thought it was a bad idea. At the time, Zach was a young, single guy who enjoyed traveling. Why would he want a dog to tie him down? Companionship was his reason, and he assured me he was ready for the responsibility. I shook my head, kept my mouth shut, and readied myself for the moment when he’d say this new responsibility was more than he bargained for.
Guess what? It never happened. Oh sure, it cramped Zach’s traveling style. And there were many occasions when he was frustrated with his new puppy, named Oliver, for making a mess on a carpet or refusing to eat the most expensive dog food Zach could find. When Oliver misbehaved, Zach bought books on dog training, read them cover to cover, and even hired a dog trainer at $75 an hour. Through it all, Zach’s Vacation Fund became Zach’s Oliver Fund and the goal to travel to Greece to rediscover the Parthenon was put on hold indefinitely. But Zach honored his commitment. And in that commitment Zach became a better person, more grounded and more appreciative of what he had and how hard he had to work to get it. And something else happened too, Zach found joy in the unconditional love and companionship of Oliver. The loyalty and respect Zach earned from his warm puppy is legendary among Zach’s friends and family. But it works both ways.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I were visiting Zach and his Fiance during a heavy rainstorm. And of course, just at the moment of the greatest downfall, Oliver decided he had to go out. Whining and scratching at the leash, it was obvious there could be no waiting for the weather to break. “Is he kidding? Now he has to go out?” I asked.
Zach shoved on his boots and raincoat, and leashed the dog. “It’s okay.” Zach said with a smile. He picked up his umbrella and shook it. “Fortunately, I’ve got this to keep me dry. Oliver and I will be fine.”
Fine? Yes…and happy.
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