Sunday, 4 September 2011

Walking the dogs

I love going out walking with our two dogs.  They scamper to and fro, noses to the ground following scents in apparently random patterns, then rush on ahead of me, turning round every few seconds to check they’re on the right path – and bounce back to me if they’re not. They are living completely in the moment.
They lighten my heart. Sometimes I just laugh out loud at the joy of it all.    

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And they are very good for me.  They probably improve my physical health, reducing my blood pressure and my risk of heart disease.  They certainly are part of my wellbeing recipe.
Way back in the seventeenth century, Robert Burton wrote thousands of pages about melancholy and how to cure it.  But he was able to boil all his research and his thinking down to two very simple ideas:
As thou tenderest thine own welfare ..., thy good health of body and minde, observe this short precept, give not way to solitariness and idleness. Be not solitary, be not idle.
Dog walking sorts out both of these things for me, very nicely. It’s not solitary, it’s sociable - and it definitely stops me being idle.
Much more recently, instead of two cures for melancholy, the New Economic Foundation have come up with 5 Ways to Wellbeing. You may have heard of them, but just in case you haven’t, here they are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, and Give.  For me, all five of them are covered by walking with the dogs.
Connect: I connect with the dogs themselves, and with a surprising number of other people. Lots of people just smile, at the dogs and at me, when they seem them lolloping along. And all sorts of interesting conversations emerge with other dog walkers.
Be active: of course walking is good aerobic exercise, releasing those endorphins. The other day (don’t ask me how!) we all ended up on a boat in the middle of a Welsh lake.
Take Notice – all sorts of good things to notice while we’re out:  wonderful sunsets over the sand dunes at Formby, the changing seasons on our usual walk along the nearby cycle path, blackberries ripening and ready for eating as we go along.
Keep Learning – hmmm, this is the challenging one! Dog training is a skill     I have not yet fully mastered. I can get them both to sit, and (usually) to return to heel, but I’m not so good at stopping them leaping up when they meet new people.  So I need to keep learning on that one.
Give – that is, seeing myself and my happiness linked to others, to things or beings beyond myself. When I’m walking the dogs I’m thinking about their wellbeing, and their safety - I’m on the lookout for danger from other dogs, cars, cyclists or whatever.
So for me, walking the dogs is a great antidote to stress and gloom. Who needs pills?  Who needs therapists?
What about you? Tell us about your two cures for melancholy, or your 5 ways to wellbeing. Does dog walking do it for you?  If not, what else does?