How To Smile Like a Dog


Today is our first snow of the new year. The dogs run through the cold, white powder like they have had three shots of espresso and a few candy bars. They gallop, more like deer, above it and drop lower as their feet retouch the ground. Then, they race inside the house with their eyes wide like footballs, tongues hanging out, smiling like goofy super villains. An Elmer Fudd meets Wile E. Coyote combo. Five minutes later, they are calm, stretched out on my bed, posing as hibernating bears. The dogs are not exhausted or downtrodden. They are relaxed and content.


Last year was a busy one, full of projects, jobs, and deadlines. Time was stacked like moving boxes that couldn’t be unpacked before a new destination was appointed for them. I pushed, focused my way through the year, making the most of the moments as I could allow myself to enjoy them, but I often felt smothered by the pressure of it all. The stress. I found few moments where I dove into the shocking snow, embraced coldness and newness, and jumped right back into my comfortable skin with a goofy, happy smile.


New year resolutions have become cliché. For many, they are a source of animosity and resentment; they reflect projects half-finished or weakness for follow-through. I projected this mindset for many years. Then in retaliation, I told myself to forget about useless resolutions, to focus on the things I do well and not the things I don’t do well. Both mindsets were extremes.


My realization this new year is that expectations and goals are not good or bad on paper. The underlying messages, motivating the goals, are what need introspection. Many goals for better health or functionality in general, are based on feelings of “have to” or “better do that before this gets worse”. My failure to follow through with these goals, no matter how beneficial they may be, is rooted in motivation via punishment and guilt. With the opposite extreme—the need to pacify and ignore weaknesses and growing edges—the same outcome holds true. I quit because neither approach is healthy.


Diving into the snow, with unabashed whimsy, so easily mirrored by my dogs, comes from a place of curiosity, passion, and enticement. Not obligation. With stress no longer first string, but benched. For me, shed through an activity. An activity that has no bearing on “should” or “because it’s good for you”. An activity that is joyous and canine-inspired. I realize, after a year of searching, that I am drawn to the road as my dogs are to the snow. My whimsical activity requires no psychologist, fancy equipment or deep analysis, just a pair of good shoes and the road. A jog with no finish line.


I move fast enough to think without analyzing things too much. The world is a blank canvas, and I am not stifled by fear of failure or the heaviness of the world. The jog isn’t prescribed exercise, and it changes the last letter of its name to “y” just for me, which is the best medicine I know. Joy. With joy in mind and body, my heart remembers that yes, I am enough and that I can build on that. Practical. Powerful. Grounded. Jagged. Simple. Like the road.


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