Learning to be Happier: Lessons from Friedrich

“You can’t really be happy for other people if you’re not happy with yourself.”

Undoubtedly, you have heard this expression before. If you find yourself unable to celebrate the accomplishments of those around you, here are some simple tips that I learned from my dog, Friedrich, for turning my gloom into glee.

1. Trot around the yard barking (or in our case, shouting) just because you can. When I let Friedrich outside, he usually just sits on the deck and watches the birds and squirrels go about their business. But, occasionally, after he has been sitting there awhile, he gets up, for no apparent reason, runs down the deck steps and trots around the yard giving a cheerful bark or two. This inevitably makes him wag his tail, and unbeknownst to him (or maybe not) brings joy to anyone who happens to be observing this act of “I am happily running around the yard simply because I can.” When was the last time you ran around the yard just for fun?

IMG_18422. Never eat alone. Friedrich’s dish is perpetually full, but he almost never eats from it unless somebody is in the kitchen with him. Clearly, he has learned that dining with others is half the fun of enjoying a meal. It’s no fun to eat by yourself, no matter how good the food is.

Eating is a social activity, and therefore, eating too many meals alone can contribute to your overall misery. Find someone with whom to dine, at least one meal every day. (Friedrich’s favorite dining partner is my father. Whenever he shows up at my house, Fred sees it as his cue to head to the kitchen and dig in.)

3. If you have an itch, scratch it (or find someone to scratch it for you). Sometimes, while lounging around the house, Friedrich gets an itch on his head or his back. He grumbles and snorts a bit, and then finds a way to scratch that itch. Often, he charges the leather couch like it is the cause of his discomfort, but ultimately, rubbing his head along the side of the couch seems to do the trick. If you have an itch that is causing you discomfort, and therefore making you act grouchy toward others, find a way to scratch it and move on with your day.

4. Sit politely near someone who might share a treat with you. Friedrich is a smart dog. Early on, he learned that if he sits quietly next to someone who is eating, with his gaze fixed intently on that person as she enjoys her cheese or piece of chicken, perhaps that person will share a bite with him.

This technique almost always works on me. “Look at how sweet you are being, not begging at the table!” I tell him. He blinks his big, brown eyes at me, and next thing ya know, he is enjoying his own piece of cheese. If you are grumpy because your friends and family aren’t sharing with you, maybe you’re being too pushy. Try Fred’s relaxed approach next time and see what happens.

IMG_35855. Take a nap in the middle of the floor. Sometimes life gets overwhelming. It’s OK to take a break every now and then. Fred likes to find a comfortable spot on the floor, in spite of the three beds he has in three different rooms in the house. Sometimes the middle of the floor is the best place to daydream. Don’t forget to rise slowly, stretching and yawning loudly, when it’s time to wake up.

It’s no fun to be unhappy all the time. And, like I said, it’s nearly impossible to be happy for your friends and family when they are in a good mood and you’re not. Remember, change takes place slowly, so you have to start somewhere. If trotting around the yard shouting, “I’m happy to be alive!” helps bring a smile to your face (and your neighbor’s) why wouldn’t you do it? Not long after you try something new, it becomes a habit and before you even realize it, you are the one spreading happiness to those around you. This is a proven, fail-proof method of changing your attitude. It works for Friedrich every time.

The Mexican in the Kitchen (or Finding Happiness in Unexpected Ways)

Carnival Restaurant, 1954

Happy Waitress, 1954

“I totally hooked you up,” said our server, beaming at us as she piled extra grapes on our fruit et fromage plate. Then she leaned in closer and proclaimed, “I’m sleeping with the Mexican in the kitchen!”

 

My boyfriend and I made eye contact across the table. “Good for you!” he told her, enthusiastically.

The waitress squatted down beside our table and lowered her voice a bit. “I can’t tell anybody that works here, so I am telling all my customers!” she gushed, her eyes twinkling. “I think I’m having a midlife crisis or something. I mean, he is only 27 and I just turned 40 and, ha! He’s like five feet three and I’m almost six feet tall! But, it’s wonderful! We hang out every Tuesday night, and he is teaching me Spanish.”

While we sampled the cheese plate and sipped our wine, Kelly the Waitress proceeded to tell us about her fling with “the Mexican in the kitchen.” Apparently, she had a very successful 15-year career as a legal professional, and recently decided to “take a break” from that to experience life. She took the job as a server at a very laid-back, casual restaurant and was now living life to the fullest while contemplating her next career move.

She had flowing, strawberry blonde hair that was loosely pulled away from her face and adorned with yellow daisies. I could not even picture her all dressed up in a suit standing before a courtroom. She exuded a carefree, hippie attitude. It was contagious.

“My friends all tell me I should work in an upscale, fine dining restaurant so I could make more money,” Kelly was saying. “But I sweat too much for that! Besides, I like it here. And we just hired an Italian in the kitchen, so now I can learn to speak Italian, too!” She laughed and then asked us, “The Mexican is only like five-three. How short do you think the Italian will be?!”

Over the course of the evening, I found it ironic that Kelly was on a break from her lucrative career as a lawyer, and seemed to be loving her life. I, on the other hand, had given up full-time work in corporate America years ago, to pursue my dream of being a self-employed graphic designer and writer. Now in my early 40s, I was thinking it might be a good idea to enter back into that corporate world, if only for the steady income and insurance benefits.

“I bet she is a Cancer or an Aquarius,” I told my boyfriend. “She’s so flowy! She has to be a water sign.”

Kelly came back to our table a few minutes later and I posed the question to her. To my boyfriend’s amazement, she was indeed a Cancer, just like me. I was not surprised by this, but I was totally blown away when she told me that her birthday was the exact same day as mine! We were just a couple years apart to the day, living on opposite sides of our career paths. She is nearly six feet tall; I am just five feet. My midlife crisis is the thought of going back to work full-time; hers is waitressing and learning Spanish from a much younger (much shorter) Mexican sous-chef.

After a couple glasses of wine, and an empty fruit et fromage plate, we said goodbye. Kelly asked us to come back and see her soon so she could give us the latest update on her life. “You guys were so much fun!” she told us. “All my customers should be like you!”

Maybe, when you find happiness in your own life – whether it means taking time off from your career, finding pleasure in your freelance work, or sleeping with the Mexican in the kitchen – everything really is that much more fun.