By Valerie Minard
When my daughter was upset the other day, she went over to our dog, Cody, and said, “Cody will make me feel better.” She snuggled up close to him and gave him a big hug as he wagged his tail. And all was right with the world again.
But dogs can bring more than just comfort. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), they can also relieve a person’s stress and thereby improve health. These benefits seem to be independent of a person’s diet, smoking, or weight. While it’s uncertain why dogs have such a health impact, the AHA now says that pet ownership may be a reasonable approach to ensuring a healthy heart.
As any pet owner can attest, pets, and dogs in particular, give unconditional love, a listening ear, empathy, and lots of joy! They are loyal and faithful friends who always have time for you. They are not distracted by computer screens or busy schedules. They don’t judge or care what you look like, how much money you make, who you know, or how much education you have.
Could it be that all this unconditional love is why people experience improved mental and physical health as a result of dog ownership?
But, there is another factor worth considering — the love that their owners return to them. Responsible dog owners regularly feed and care for their pets. Like the mailman, they walk their dogs through all inclement weather; make sure they have nutritious food, are kept clean and groomed. Like their pets, they are motivated by love. And being on the giving end of love is healthy!
Research shows that showing compassion to people or animals in a meaningful way improves health, aids recovery from illness, and increases longevity. But is that the reason we do it? Perhaps the desire to return unconditional love to another is impelled by a spiritual source of love that’s beyond just self interest.
The Apostle Paul spoke of this love in terms of charity…”Charity suffereth long, and is kind; …Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:…” And he goes on further to say that “God is Love.” If that is true, wouldn’t each of God’s children inherit the ability to express love?
The opportunity to love gives us a reason for living. As we express more love, it gives us a glimpse of the divine Love that is always present. When we are impelled by this unselfish divine love, it has a healing effect. Love clears out the cobwebs of stress, fear and whatever negativity would clog or constrict progress. As healer and religious leader Mary Baker Eddy said, “ Love alone is Life;” So rather than looking to either a pet or the heart for health, perhaps it’s looking for opportunities to love that gives meaning and purpose to life. If a healthier heart is simply a side effect of loving, it can be permanent and no longer dependent on outside sources.
Whether we love a two-legged or a four-legged companion, that unselfishness and joy can’t help but strengthen our wellbeing. As my daughter found when she was upset, giving Cody a hug not only made him happy but brought comfort and peace to her.
But, If you don’t have a dog, never fear. Each day brings countless opportunities to express loving kindness to others and it’s just natural that will also lead to better health!