11/20/2011 11:22 am ET | Updated Jan 18, 2012

How to Truly Enjoy the Holidays -- What We Can Learn From Our Pets

This can be a magical time of year. Friends and family come together to share meals, gifts, and seasonal music. Yet, this time of year is also fraught with tension and stress. We are busier than ever and often struggle to enjoy the festivities we've been so busy planning.

Observing my dog Alvie one evening, lying comfortably on his giant bed, it dawned on me that we can learn a lot from our pets, especially during the holidays. What creature better exemplifies living in the moment than our best friend, the loyal dog?

Never underestimate the power of a good nap: We've all heard about the studies telling us how important sleep is to a healthy life. With work and family, it is often a challenge to get enough rest and still have time to take care of everyone, and everything. Our pets understand that sometimes we need to shut everything down and recharge ourselves. Although they don't have day planners or PDAs, they still fit naps into their day. The fact that we can schedule some rest may even give us an advantage over our four-legged friends.

Relish a good meal: For those who have pets, you know how important food is to your animals. It really is the highlight of the day! Particularly, breakfast is the meal we're always advised to eat, but, most often skip. Being excited about food is one of life's joys. The only improvement we could make is to eat a bit more slowly than our dog and cat friends, who do tend to devour meals quickly!

Be genuinely happy to see your family as they arrive home: We've all had those days when, the first time we greet our family, we begin a diatribe of how awful our days have been. Can you imagine arriving home to hear your dog complaining about his day (imagining a fictional talking dog, of course). We love our pets because they are always happy to see us come home. That feels wonderful! It feels good to give that boost to our human loved ones, too.

Inexpensive gifts are often more precious than pricey ones: How often have you spent a lot of money on a gift for a pet and discovered that the box in which it is wrapped is more intriguing? Over the years working at the Maryland SPCA, we've found that many inexpensive items make the animals very happy. Household articles such as toilet paper rolls and cardboard boxes are often quite thrilling for our pets. The gesture and thought do count for a lot.

It really is the little things that make us all happy. Having a warm, dry place to sleep, being surrounded by loved ones, enjoying the small moments of peace and quiet. Watch your pets and see what they can teach you. Slowing down, resting, and relishing that kibble can really be the secret to a happy holiday season and a happy life.