My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Managing Your Mood: The Art of Self-inflicted Joy


Managing mood is a part of every life, but for people who both tend animals and teach adults, two things almost every dog pro does, managing mood effectively can mean the difference between success and struggle, quality care and less-than-your-best.

Last summer, after leaving my partner of 23 years, I knew I had to do daily, conscious work managing my mood. All my years as a dog trainer had taught me that I had two basic ways to approach that task: a) use my emotions to shift my behavior or b) use my behavior to shift my emotions.

Doing a) would mean I would wait until I felt better to do better and b) meant I would actively use how I behaved to shift how I felt. Easy choice for me: b).

Below is a list of things I can “inflict” on myself whenever I want to to change my mood in a good way. Your list will likely be different– good! This piece isn’t about the exact details, but rather about the goal: Find ways to consciously and effectively create the feeling of joy. Please note: It is NOT important that you are “good” at something or that anyone else thinks you are “good” at it – it is CRITICAL that you LOVE doing it!

My self-inflicted joy list included:

I love to dance. Never mind what anyone else says or has said; close the door, crank up music and have yourself a grand time.

Low mood tends to create slow/no movement. Activity is counter that. Vigorous movement usually means feeling at least a bit better, so move! Last summer I danced nearly every evening – sometimes for five minutes, sometimes for fifty. It was one of my reliable saving graces. No matter how bad I felt, I felt better after dancing.

Choose appropriate music, and then do daily practice at not being silent or silenced! Pick battle cry songs that you can bellow out while you make dinner, vacuum, live your life. If you live with critics or if you don’t feel comfortable singing in front of others, then there is always the car. Find someplace you can let loose.

Play songs of fighting free, moving on, standing your ground or whatever makes you feel empowered. It can and does help! Last summer’s eclectic initial playlist included: Morissette, Keyes, Raitt, Dido, Blige, Nicks, Gaynor, Turner and other strong women singing about strength. Quite therapeutic and inspirational for me at that time.

Play is a signature of good mental health. When one of my animals is sick, I always breath a sigh of relief when I see them flip a toy in the air or pounce on a passing leaf. A playful animal is an animal on the mend. True for us as well.

Our dogs are ultimate playmates. They never judge us for how we play; they are always just delighted we wish to play. They give us their attention and are “all in” with games they enjoy. With a playful dog in the house there is just no excuse not to play. You may start the game with a bored flip of a toy, but I bet you won’t end the game that way. Canine enthusiasm can be contagious – let it be.

There are all sorts of ways to play. As long as you feel more relaxed and happier after the game, then play away. If you end the game feeling tense, competitive, disappointed with yourself or in some other way “less” – that may be a sport, but it is not “play.” Seek, find and play games by yourself or with playful others. You’ll be better for it, guaranteed.

Whoever said, “Laughter is the best medicine” wasn’t kidding. Find the funny. Spend extra time with friends who crack you up, watch movies that amuse, read books that garner a giggle – shamelessly pursue genuine laughter.

Our pets are a wonderful laughter resource. Pip’s intense joie de vivre is infectious, and PJ’s happy grin whenever she runs toward me always creates a reflected one in me. Teach your dog a new trick that you find amusing, buy a silly toy, cultivate such moments carefully, as they will pay long-term dividends.

These are just four of the many options. The key is to treat your mood not as something out of your control but as something readily changeable. You know it is. You can be feeling lousy before a phone call with an upbeat friend and much better afterward. Since you know it can change, start observing the sorts of things that change it for the better and then – do those things. You may be surprised just how reliably you can shift a bad mood to a better one with a little self-inflicted joy.

Note: I would love to hear the sorts of things that create joy in you. Please share them with me on our forums. See you there!

by Sarah Wilson

Author of handbooks: My Smart Puppy (book with DVD) and Childproofing Your Dog

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