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How To Nap & Eight Other Life-Affirming Lessons Animals Can Teach Us

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What wisdom can whales impart? What can cats teach us? More than you might imagine.

With our extraordinary brains and other unique attributes, we humans think we've got it all figured out. But others in the animal kingdom have some life-affirming tricks to teach us -- if only we pay attention.

Here are nine life lessons we can learn from animals:

1. Take more naps. Cats know how to catch some good shut-eye. They sleep 12 to 16 hours a day. What can napping do for humans? Boost alertness, increase creativity, and improve learning and memory, among other benefits.

2. Don't neglect your friends. Did you know bats hang out with their besties too? So do elephants, dolphins, horses, hyenas and chimps. Some animals stay friends for years -- like female humpback whales, who reunite with their buds every summer.

Why do we all need friends? Friendships are evolutionarily advantageous. Studies have shown that social bonds can reduce stress, increase lifespan, and improve reproductive success.

bats upside down

3. Get addicted to exercise. Exercise has many health benefits for the brain and body. It reduces stress, improves sleep, alleviates depression, and enhances learning -- in addition to controlling weight and reducing risk for many diseases.

If you find you have to drag yourself to the gym, the animal world can provide some inspiration. Mice actually crave exercise and experience withdrawal when their wheels are taken away. Sled dogs can run 1,150 miles in 10 to 17 days.

That may be a lot to expect from yourself, but taking Fido for a walk can help you meet your fitness goals. A recent study revealed that people who walked their dogs were 34 percent more likely to reach benchmarks for physical activity.

4. Love learning. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is crack open the books. But brain studies have shown that we're actually wired to feel rewarded by learning new things.

Maybe you'd expect apes to get a rise from picking up new skills, but even cows deserve some credit. Research has shown that heifers get excited about their achievements -- their heart rates go up and they move more quickly after improving at a task.

cow grass

5. Play fair. It's not always easy to tell right from wrong. But evolutionary biologists say that fair play helps animals (and humans) survive -- it boosts physical and cognitive development, and establishes rules so society as a whole can flourish.

Even dogs have a keen sense of morality, following their own "canine code of conduct" when they play.

6. Share and learn from each other. It's easy to get caught up in achieving your own goals -- but some species remind us that sharing information is important for survival -- like whales, for instance.

“Our study really shows how vital cultural transmission is in humpback populations -- not only do they learn their famous songs from each other, they also learn feeding techniques that allow them to buffer the effects of changing ecology,” Luke Rendell, a University of St. Andrews biology professor, said in a written statement.

two humpback

7. Slow down. Ever think to yourself "where did all the time go?" Birds and insects don't. A recent study found that small animals perceive time in slow motion.

It has to do with an ability to process more visual information at each moment -- and humans can get better at it. Research has shown that elite athletes can perceive time slowing down during a game.

Mindfulness -- paying close attention in the present moment -- can serve as a simple trick for slowing down the clock. Studies have linked mindfulness with numerous health benefits.

8. Be empathic. You might feel awkward walking by someone who's crying. But dogs will comfort you whether they know you or not. A study showed dogs respond and markedly change their behavior when people cry. They lick and nuzzle their owners and strangers indiscriminately.

dog empathy

9. Don't give up easily. Need inspiration to keep going? Salmon swim for thousands of miles upstream, somehow making their way back to their birthplace so they can spawn the next generation. If they can do that, you can probably tackle that seemingly impossible task on your to-do list.

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