I don’t prefer to use the term “pet” when referring to my dog or cat because I, like many other modern Americans, see them instead as members of the family. I consider my cat, Oscar, to be my son and my sister’s pitbull, Rillo, my niece. My parents even refer to themselves as ‘Nana’ and ‘Popsy’ when talking to or about Rillo, and she soaks in this coded language and forms her own vocabulary by association. Animals may not be able to speak our language but they are excellent at picking up on our verbal and nonverbal cues which in turn guide their behavior. Research has concluded that the best explanation for dogs’ specialized social skills is that they evolved as a consequence of dogs having been domesticating by humans, representing a case of convergent cognitive evolution.
I believe cats posses these same capabilities but are more independent by nature than dogs and therefore follow social cues when they deem it necessary for affection or their own self gratification. If Oscar wants to go outside and hunt for the day, he starts purring loudly at 4 am, rubbing his face on mine to make sure I’m up and responding to his affection. If I don’t get up to let him outside, he jumps on my dresser and starts pushing various figurines on the floor, staring at me in the eyes with each swipe of his paw until I leave my bed. Anyone that has a pet knows the routines and cues they’ve developed for telling their human counterpart something they need or want, and in turn, we accept this as normal communicative behavior between us and our furry family members.
But what you might not know is that owning a pet has been proven beneficial to people’s mental, physical and emotional health. Check out Animal Planet’s Top 5 Health Benefits of Owning a Pet to read the details explaining why an animal a day can keep the doctor away:
- Breathe Easier: Having a pet in the home lowers the risk of developing related allergies by as much as 33%
- Meet and Greet: Animals can act as instant ice breakers in conversation
- Stay Heart Healthy: Pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels–minimizing risks for heart attacks down the road
- Get a Move On: Dogs need exercise so walking them regularly keeps the weight off you as well
- Keep Your Chin Up: Pets provide companionship, boosting feelings of joy and happiness (especially for sick and elderly patients)
How do you view and comprehend the unexpected events that life throws at you? God’s plan, coincidence, fate or just random destined moments passing through space and time? In 2012, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religious and Public Life survey revealed that, of the 46 million unaffiliated (no religious affiliation) American adults surveyed, more than half reported a deep connection with nature and earth, and 37 percent claimed they were “spiritual but not religious.” In the same survey, 34 percent said they were spiritual and 38 percent said they believe in “God or a universal spirit.” In short, a substantial portion of atheists and nonreligious report spiritual feelings (Cragun, 2014).
Spirituality can be believing you have a spiritual connection with other people, believing there is some form of higher power or believing that there is some form of afterlife; all of these beliefs can be held without any institutional affiliation with a religion. A growing wave of research suggests that religion and spirituality may help some people better cope with illness, depression and stress. Several medical studies show a connection between religious beliefs or practices and a decreased risk of self-destructive behaviors such as smoking, substance abuse and suicide. Perhaps the reasoning behind these findings is that feeling connected with nature and the world around you helps you find inner peace and appreciate quality of life in a world of unpredicted chaos. Spirituality and religion then, can be seen as strong predictors of and provide valuable insight into a person’s or society’s state of mental health.
If reality is defined through the individual’s eyes, cultures, personal values, beliefs and life experiences, we are creating billions of intertwining collective realities that all somehow affect each other. Our own reality greatly shapes choices and options we see available for taking or avoiding. If every person on this planet could put aside their differences and pre-existing notions to think about the meaning of life from this perspective, world peace might be more possible than ever before. Humans could learn to be codependent on each other and the natural world instead of constantly competing for resources and individual success. When are we all going to realize that every living thing on this planet came from one common ancestor? Theory or not, evolution makes more sense than all the world’s religions combined.