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Happiness Is: Are Pet Owners Happier?

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Anyone who lives with a cat or a dog will tell you how much love there is to be found in this man/woman-beast relationship. Taking nothing away from birds, reptiles or friendly rodents, the loving touch of a furry family member at the end of a long, tough day is hard to beat. With their unconditional love Fluffy and Fido bring happiness to their human "litter-mates."

About the names: The rather simple names of Fluffy and Fido came from the fact that cats generally were fluffy and dogs were the most faithful of creatures. Today their descendents may very well have names such as Carly or James, always with the owner's last name of course. They are family after all.

But pets don't really care all that much about names. Whatever we happen to name our pets doesn't matter. They simply want kindness, care and loving attention from us. When we give this in abundance we are assured of their love which is loyal and pure. They don't care what we look like or what we do for a living; they certainly don't care how much money we make. All they care about is that we're here.

According to statistics, people who have one or more pets in their homes lead happier lives, are considerably healthier, live longer and weigh less than those who don't. Pet owners heal better after surgery and have reduced factors for cardiovascular disease. Those are pretty good reasons to be a pet owner right there but that's not why we need and have pets in our lives. The American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians explains the bond that we have with our pets as "a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship. The touching of our pets and the closeness of the relationship with them is spiritual."

Animals influence our lives for the better. Who among us doesn't remember a special pet from childhood? They're remembered because their love was special. Whatever they gave to us made a lasting impression. We remember the loyalty and love.

We remember, too, the sadness of a beloved pet's passing or the incredibly heartbreaking decision to euthanize a suffering dog or cat, no matter that we knew it was the right thing to do. Their love as well as their memories last.

Pets help to heal us. Therapists who work with nursing home patients are very aware of this fact when they use pet therapy as part of an interactive program. Many nursing homes have house cats whose very presence seems to bring peace to the patients. They are furry-pawed members of the staff and seem to instinctively know when they're needed.

Therapy dogs have been known to reach people suffering from Alzheimer's. A beautiful collie named Jesse was a sweet-natured gentle miracle worker of sorts for a woman suffering from this disease. She rarely spoke and never recognized anyone in her family. One day, when Jesse was brought over to the woman, he put his head in her lap. She looked at him, stroked his head and simply said, "Lassie." His presence had sparked a sweet, tiny memory for her.

The relationship between humans and pets goes back a long time and no doubt started out as a practical one. Cats kept homes rodent free and dogs guarded and protected "their humans" in exchange for food, water, and shelter. We took care of them and they took care of us too. It was a "hand-and-paw-shake-on-it" good deal for all concerned.

Animals are still looking out for us. Stories of dogs who risk their lives to protect their owners, and even complete strangers, from physical attacks, cats who have been known to alert sleeping families to fire and other dangers in the home, pods of dolphins saving a surfer being attacked by a shark -- the media is full of these true human interest stories.

There is an inexplicable tug of our hearts towards the creatures with whom we share our lives, a primal need to interact with them and to love them. What they give to us is something that is precious and rare. They love us without reservation, they trust us implicitly, they accept us as we are, warts and all. What a perfect definition of unconditional love!

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at Kristen Houghton.com and visit her Keys to Happiness blog.
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Copyright 2010 Kristen Houghton

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