Dogs have always reigned as man’s best friend, and their position by our sides is stronger today than ever before. That bond has a lot to do with our inability to refuse a pair of puppy dog eyes, but science says there’s a lot more going on between dogs and humans than we think. Everything seems to come down to one simple fact: dogs make people happy. Whether it’s a therapy dog visiting a hospital or a furry family member snuggling on the couch, there’s a lot about dogs that lift our moods and make life more enjoyable. Here’s the proof.
- Less Stress and Lower Risk of Depression
When deadlines pile up, the house is a mess, and life generally gets hard and frustrating, petting the dog will do more for your mental health than any number of those squishy stress balls. It all has to do with hormones. The biggest bad guy in the name of stress is called cortisol. This stress-inducing hormone can impair brain function, increase blood pressure, and lower immune response. In the long-term, it can also cause depression.
The good news is, human bodies also have a powerful anti-stress hormone called oxytocin. Often called the feel-good hormone, oxytocin blasts through stress to make people feel better and generally more content. You can’t go around collecting extra oxytocin-like you’re Mario on the Rainbow Road, but studies show petting a dog is an effective way to increase oxytocin and reduce stress. In this way, dogs make people happy without even trying. The basic act of petting a dog’s soft fur triggers a release of oxytocin that helps college students focus during finals and employees feel better in the workplace. When people aren’t consumed by feelings of stress, they’re a lot happier.
- Community Connection
Feeling alone affects mental health in serious ways, and studies show a lack of social interaction can negatively impact physical health, learning, and a person’s general ability to thrive and feel satisfied with life. Ikeda Center explains how having a community to lean on is an essential part of mental health regardless of how outgoing a person is. It isn’t about having a large group of friends, it’s about feeling connected to society and staving off alienation when someone struggles to cope with feelings of loneliness, a dog could be their answer.
Without ever saying a word, dogs always know how to start a conversation. When you’re walking down the street with your dog on a leash or set a picture of your four-legged friend on your desk, that furry face will always attract attention. People love talking about dogs, and telling someone about that funny thing Spot did is a conversation even the most introverted person can feel comfortable having. Dogs make people happy by opening the door for human connection. At the dog park, pet store, and walking down the street, you’re bound to run into someone who can instantly connect with you because of your dog. Those interactions, even if they’re fleeting, provide a much-needed sense of community. Connecting through dogs can even lead to long-term friendships and prolonged happiness.
- A Healthy Life Routine
When you’re feeling sad, you curl up with a blanket and plant yourself on the couch. Leaving the house feels like the last thing you want to do, but isolation only fuels those bad feelings. Without the right motivation to get moving, it’s easy to sink deeper into depression. It’s a vicious cycle of desolation and sadness, but dogs are strong enough to pull people through it.
A dog won’t let you sit on the couch for long. They need attention and exercise, and their needs have an uncanny ability to put life into perspective. A study published in the “News in Health Newsletter” found people with dogs get more exercise and are less likely to be overweight than people without pets. Dogs keep people on a routine that includes exercise, social interaction, and taking care of basic needs. Put it all together, and dogs make people happy by supporting healthy lifestyles and promoting individual self-worth.
- A Loyal Friend and Therapist
Always faithful and loving, dogs are the non-judgmental friends’ people need in every scenario. Whether you need someone to lean on in times of grief or feel like venting to an unbiased observer, your dog will happily fill the role. They won’t offer advice, but they’ll always be there to listen and provide comfort. Dogs are the type of friends that stick around through thick and thin.
Having that support system, no matter how much fur and slobber they leave behind, is vital for mental health and happiness. There’s a reason why dogs are used as therapy animals and employed by hospitals and nursing homes. There’s also a reason why children with autism and people with disabilities thrive when they have a dog to love. For dogs, being a friend is simple and second nature. They have no idea how much their undying affection toward people positively impacts those who need it most.
A dog doesn’t know snuggling on the couch reduces a person’s chance of developing depression, and they don’t understand how running up to the neighbor helps their family become part of a supportive community. All dogs care about is being there for the people who love them. Dogs love freely without obligation and with no strings attached. They’re part of the family, and whether they know they’re doing it or not, dogs make people happy. Has there ever been a better reason to welcome a pup into your heart and home?