My very-dirty-this-time-of-year Subaru has a bumper sticker that says “Wag more, bark less.” As anyone who knows me even slightly, I love our two dogs, Maggie and Dallas. Both are good pups … mostly. I bought the bumper sticker because it was funny and dog related, but the more I thought about it, the deeper the simple message became to me. (Of course, I may be completely overthinking this; it wouldn’t be the first time.)
The simple message is spend more time being happy and less being angry or afraid. The analogy (or is it a metaphor?) is imperfect. My arrivals home are often accompanied by much happy barking, so barking doesn’t always mean anger or fear. But I like using this aphorism as a rhetorical device, so let’s ignore the imperfection. So, how can we achieve this state of wagginess?
Start by recognizing that life is short, which makes it a shame that so many of us spend so much of our time angry or afraid. (I’m using “afraid” in a very broad sense to include fear and anxiety.) As I’ve written before, upset over the past and anticipating an uncertain future are two major sources of fear and anxiety. As Seneca wrote, “Beasts avoid the dangers they see, and when they have escaped them are free from care; but we men torment ourselves over that which is to come as well as over that which is past.” Focusing on the present helps us bark less, it also leads us to wag more. Again quoting Seneca, “The present alone can make no man wretched.”
Dogs wag more because the clock isn’t their master. Dogs eat when they’re hungry, drink when they’re thirsty, and sleep when they’re tired. When Maggie is worn out from play, it doesn’t matter much what time it is, she naps peacefully. (To be fair though, she eats any time we’ll give her food.) Humans are driven by the clock. The clock is our boss, and we its slave. The clock says noon, it’s time to eat. The clock says 6 a.m., so it’s time to awaken (well, for me it’s 4 a.m., but whatever). Certainly by necessity we must allow the clock to drive some activities, but in many instances the clock rules us simply out of habit and convention. Maybe if we defy the clock on occasion, we’ll be a little happier.
Dogs also enjoy what they have while they have it. As some of you know, Maggie derives great joy from rawhide chips. She tosses them around, brings them to me for games of fetch, and runs around the house happy just because she has a chip. Sometimes she actually chews and eats the chip. What she doesn’t do is get sad when the chip is gone. (This may be because she generally has a dozen or so chips strategically scattered.) We can take a page from Maggie’s playbook. Enjoy what you have when you have it, but when it’s gone, let it go. This, my friends, is a key to happiness. I’m on a Seneca roll, so here’s another gem: “No good thing renders its possessor happy, unless his mind is reconciled to the possibility of loss.”
Dogs can also teach us how to be rich … really. While Maggie and Dallas are happy to receive a new toy (especially a stuffed sock monkey; they go nuts for a sock money), they don’t seem to sit around making an accounting of their toy inventory. They wag because they’re happy with the toys they have. True riches come from not wanting more than you have. Turning to Seneca one last time (in this column), “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”
So let’s take a clue from our canine friends. Enjoy the short time we have, life is precious, don’t waste it on anger, fear and anxiety. Wag more, bark less.
By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.
For more of Maggie’s antics, visit parablesofmaggie.com.
I’m honored to lead Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business, home to over 3,400 students, and faculty and staff who are dedicated to the success of those students and the economic development of Northern Arizona. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: http://www.franke.nau.edu/. I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to: email@example.com, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.