To Pursue Happiness, Learn From Dogs

dog sitting outside

“Many schools [of sword fighting] teach a man cutting grip, a defensive grip, and a stabbing grip… this is false, there is only the one grip. I dislike fixedness in the grip. Fixedness is a dead hand. Pliability is a living hand.” – Miyamoto Mushashi, The Book of the Five Rings, 1645.

Many people will attempt to tell you the secret to life. All too often it comes in the form of their desires and goals, or in vague and unattainable axioms like “just be happy.”

Unfortunately, being happy is a passing event. The founding fathers of the U.S. were right to seek to provide a place wherein we could pursue happiness, rather than attempting the foolish goal of giving us happiness itself.

(Dogs) simply exist in the world, accepting its nature, changing what they can to suit themselves…but they waste no time complaining when they can’t.

This leads to another problem though: How do you pursue happiness? The answer is simple: be a dog.

Watching a dog is a fascinating education. They’ll happily lay around for days on end when food is available, but when it’s not, they pursue it tirelessly until they get fed. They don’t complain when in the worst of conditions, though they’ll beg to come inside if they’re just on the other side of the door. They know no great discontent.

A dog will do anything and everything it takes to pursue its goals, and then, satiated, lay down and work no more. They do not complain about what they must do, they simply do it. They’ll eat when there’s food, they’ll starve when there is none. They simply exist in the world, accepting its nature, changing what they can to suit themselves by digging a hole or taking shelter from a storm, but they waste no time complaining when they can’t.

In this you should find a transcendent lesson. Don’t waste much time complaining about your job, or who you’re dating or your life in general. Step back, look at the big picture and ask yourself a simple question: will this get me the things I truly want?

If the answer is yes, then put your head down and get through it. If the answer is no, then leave whatever is bothering you alone and find something else.

…have no work and have no play, just cultivate a life that provides that which you want.

Remain flexible in your life. Learn to suppress your childish complaints in the face of necessary tasks, but equally learn to sublimate the pressure you feel to carry out a task that brings you no benefit.

Be as a dog because they know what they want, and they pursue it, but they just as equally find great contentment in life itself.

Learn to stop segregating work and play. Too often our generation works jobs they hate to fund the pursuit of wasteful things they count as fun.

Learn to make your recreation meaningful and productive, Either change jobs or cultivate a greater understanding of your job to make it rewarding to yourself.

This is the greatest challenge but equally the greatest gift we can glean from all this: have no work and have no play, just cultivate a life that provides that which you want.

That is no mean feat. It requires the conviction to eschew the things you may want in passing, as well as the introspection to weigh and assess what you truly want out of life. But there is value in it nonetheless.

Learn what goals are unattainable for you. Learn which ones are feasible. Strive for greatness in all things, find satisfaction even as you find your own boundaries.

Be like a dog. Be pliable, for that is truly living.

About Will Dawson

Will Dawson runs a distillery down in Appalachia. He builds furniture in his free time. Before making whiskey, he ran a contracting company. He has a BA in History from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. He likes long walks on the beach and talking about your feelings.

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