Today is the International Day of Happiness, and if there’s one thing we know, it’s that dogs are a constant source of happiness in all of our lives. And that’s not just our opinion– science says so, too. Here are 6 reasons dogs make us happy!
1. Just looking at a dog makes you happy.
Yes, it does explain why we love to spend hours looking at pictures of adorable puppies, but there’s a little more to it than that. A 2009 study at Azabu University in Japan found that simply staring into a dog’s eyes cause oxytocin levels to rise (that’s the neurohormone that makes us feel happy). That’s it. Look into their cute puppy eyes, and feel better instantly.
The study also found that the longer people looked into their dog’s eyes, the more oxytocin was released. The perfect excuse to stare at your beloved pup all day long.
2. Dogs reduce stress.
Many different studies have been performed to assess the impact of dogs on our stress levels. Karen Walker, a psychology professor at the University of Buffalo, did one notable study in which humans were asked to perform stressful tasks. When a dog was simply present in the room, the human’s stress responses were significantly lower. Blood pressure didn’t jump the same way it had without the dogs, and the humans were able to more calmly complete the tasks.
Other studies have found that the addition of dog-related habits (such as taking a dog for a walk every day) has been linked to larger health benefits, such as enhanced heart rate variability (a sign associated with stress reduction).
3. Petting a dog instantly relaxes.
We can probably all agree that petting a dog feels relaxing, but science proves it actually is. Within just a few minutes of petting any furry friend, our brain begins to increase production of serotonin and oxytocin (hormones that makes us feel relaxed, and happy). This same study from the University of Missouri-Columbia found that it also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to an overall feeling of serenity and peace.
Even more so, the fact that these positive physical impacts occur within as little as 5-24 minutes, that makes them work more quickly than drugs that do the same task. Sounds good enough for us!
4. Dogs can help us recover from trauma.
Beyond simply turning a ‘bad’ day into a better one, dogs can also help humans recover from deeper psychological traumas. Several inspiring programs have begun using dogs to help soldiers recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the humans in the program report a variety of benefits. Some say the companionship of a natural ‘watch-dog’ enables them to feel safe again, as they heal from the paranoia that war brings. Others say the companionship helps them on the road to human relationships again.
“The animals draw out even the most isolated personality, and having to praise the animals helps traumatized veterans overcome emotional numbness. Teaching the dogs service commands develops a patient’s ability to communicate, to be assertive but not aggressive, a distinction some struggle with,” writes Chris Colin, of Smithsonian Magazine.
Paired with the daily stress-reducing and happiness-increasing effects that dogs bring, they’re a wonderful way that organizations can help those recovering from a personal crisis on the road to recovery.
5. Dogs reduce loneliness.
Having a companion is a natural way to combat loneliness, and studies have proven this to be scientifically valid. One study found that elderly humans (amongst whom loneliness can be common) were four times less likely be diagnosed as clinically depressed if they owned a dog or cat. This in turn led to fewer medical visits each year, and even increased longevity.
6. Dogs help us develop empathy.
Several recents studies have found that having had a dog as a child or teenager leads to becoming a more caring, compassionate, and even confident adult. Those with a stronger attachment to their pets reported also feeling more connected to their community and relationships, and demonstrated a greater understanding of the needs of others.
Even adults who didn’t have a pet earlier in life, but did add one to their home at some point, also exhibited in increase in these traits.
*7. You tell us!
How has your dog added happiness to your life? Tell us in the comments below, and we’ll add you to the list!
Comments from our #nommers on how their dogs make them happy!
@wholebodylaughter: When Willow ruuuuuuns across the room, LEAPS into my lap and flops herself down in my belly facing me with the most adorable eyes!!
@miss_cassies: Oh my gosh. How does she not? She’s my snuggle buddy at the end of a very hard day. She’s my playmate. She’s my constant companion. She’s the thing I’ve been most sure I’ve done right in my life. She’s my most rewarding adventure. She’s my little spoon – and sometimes my big spoon (even tho she only weighs 16 lbs). She’s my greeter every evening letting me know I can drop my worries and hardships at the door. As a social worker I have some damn hard days. But no matter how overwhelmed, tired, or frustrated I get – this lil girl has my back 100% of the time. What did we ever do – any of us simple humans – to deserve dogs?