Dogs live in the present – they just are! Dogs make the best of each moment uncluttered by the sorts of complex fears and feelings that we humans have. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value. Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable time, at least 30,000 years. That makes the domesticated dog the longest animal companion to man, by far!
As man’s companion, protector and helper, history suggests that dogs were critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Dogs ‘teaching’ man to be so successful a hunter enabled evolution, some 20,000 years later, to farming, thence the long journey to modern man. But in the last, say 100 years, that farming spirit has become corrupted to the point where we see the planet’s plant and mineral resources as infinite. Mankind is close to the edge of extinction, literally and spiritually.
Dogs know better, much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!
Welcome to Learning from Dogs
Welcome to July!
Sidney Bloch, who is Emeritus Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne, recently published an essay over on the blogsite The Conversation. (Greatly recommended, by the way.)
His essay was about happiness versus contentment and certainly touched a few spots in this old Englishman’s psyche, contented as I am in this rural part of Oregon. However, until now I had never stopped to think about the difference between being happy and being contented.
So, I think you are going to enjoy Professor Bloch’s views, that now follow. His essay is republished, with permission, just as it was presented on The Conversation.
Happiness is an illusion, here’s why you should seek contentment instead.
June 29, 2015 4.07pm EDT
I want to share a personal view of what it is to be happy and how it differs from feeling content. Let me begin with a clinical story.
They met at a party; it was love at first sight just like one reads about in romantic novels. They married following an exhilarating courtship, and since they shared an eagerness to raise a family, Jennifer soon announced the joyful news of her pregnancy. They called their baby Annie after Adam’s late mother.
They felt blessed; every moment since their first encounter had been nothing but pleasurable. Everyone who knew them concurred that their lives as a couple had been replete with happiness.
Tragically, it was not to endure. Their first setback occurred only days after Annie’s birth. She was sleeping fitfully and her colic stubbornly persisted. Jennifer felt utterly demoralised as a new mother. Her mounting sense of guilt and melancholy led to her admission to a psychiatric ward (her first ever encounter with psychiatry); the fear of her harming Annie or herself spread through the family and circle of friends.
And then, quite shockingly, despite the most diligent medical and nursing care, Jennifer met her death after jumping off a second floor balcony. Her family and friends plunged into deep grief; the medical professionals who had looked after her were similarly bereft.
An elusive goal
Having worked as a psychiatrist for over four decades and got to know dozens of men, women, and children of diverse backgrounds and with unique life stories, I have witnessed many a sad narrative, although suicide has mercifully been a rare event.
These experiences, in tandem with a lifelong fascination with what makes people tick, have led me most reluctantly to the judgement that while we may savour happiness episodically, it will invariably be disrupted by unwelcome negative feelings. Still, most of humankind will continue to harbour the expectation of living happily and remain oblivious that this wishful fantasy is an unconscious way of warding off the threat of psychic pain.
Rather than confront and demoralise those who have sought my help, I have gently but honestly responded to their plaintive yearning (“all I want is just to be happy”), by highlighting an inherent human sentiment. Namely that clinging to the fiction of being able to avoid suffering and enjoying a continuing state of pleasure is tantamount to self-deception.
I have offered them the hope – but not a guarantee – that they have the potential to lead a more fulfilling life than hitherto by participating in a challenging, and at times even distressing process of self-exploration whose purpose is to enhance self understanding and acceptance of the reality-bound emotional state I call contentment.
You may retort: “But you treat people who are miserable, pessimistic and self-deprecating, surely you must be hopelessly biased.” I would readily understand your reaction but suggest that all of us, not just those in treatment, crave happiness and are repeatedly frustrated by its elusiveness.
As the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud emphasised in his 1930 essay, Civilization and Its Discontents, we are much more vulnerable to unhappiness than its opposite. That’s because we are constantly threatened by three forces: the fragility of our physical self, “doomed” by ageing and disease; the external world, with its potential to destroy us (through floods, fires, storms and earthquakes, for example); and our unpredictably complicated relationships with other people (regarded by Freud as the most painful source of unhappiness).
So, am I simply a misanthrope? I hope not but I am inclined to agree with Elbert Hubbard, the American artist and philosopher, who said, “Life is just one damn thing after another“.
We only have to think about the 50 million people who are currently displaced and unlikely to find a secure haven anytime soon, or the 2.2 billion people – including millions of children – who live on less than US$2 a day to appreciate the validity of that remark.
A better option
Given the formidable obstacles to chasing after happiness or promoting its sustainability if we are lucky enough to come by it, what options do human beings have? I have not come across any meaningful approach to this question, even from the unswervingly confident proponents of the contemporary school of positive psychology.
So, I espouse the following: given that we have the means to distinguish between happiness and contentment, we can examine how they differ and, in so doing, identify an alternative to the futile pursuit of happiness.
Happiness, derived from the Norse word hap, means luck or chance; the phrase happy-go-lucky illustrates the association. Many Indo-European languages similarly conflate the feeling of happiness and luck. Glück in German, for instance, can be translated as either happiness or chance, while eftihia, the Greek word for happiness, is derived from ef, meaning good, and tixi, luck or chance.
Thus, a mother may have the good fortune to feel ecstatic when responding to her infant’s playfulness, only to see it evaporate a couple of years later and be replaced by the initial features of autism. In the story we started this article with, Jennifer may have persevered had her baby slept peacefully and not been assailed by colicky pain in her first few weeks of life.
Contentment is derived from the Latin contentus and usually translated as satisfied. No multiple meanings here to confuse us. In my view, feeling content refers to a deep-seated, abiding acceptance of one’s self and one’s worth together with a sense of self-fulfilment, meaning and purpose.
And, most critically, these assets are valued and nurtured whatever the circumstances, or even especially when they are distressing or depressing.I have had the privilege of knowing men and women who suffered grievously as children in the ghettoes and concentration camps of Nazi Europe but emerged from their nightmare to face the challenge of seeking strengths, emotional and spiritual, within themselves. With the passage of time, many succeeded in achieving a sense of deep-seated contentment.
What these survivors have clearly demonstrated is that accepting and respecting oneself, coupled with determining what is personally meaningful, stand a greater chance of accomplishment, even if never completed, than a relentless and ultimately futile pursuit of happiness. What’s more, contentment has the potential to serve as a robust foundation upon which episodes of joy and pleasure can be experienced and cherished.
I read the essay on The Conversation out aloud to Jeannie yesterday morning and we both found it a very wise and insightful reflection.
Seems to me that there’s another aspect of life that we could learn from our wonderful dogs!
The effect of familiarity on dog–human interactions.
You will remember that a couple of weeks ago, Professor Marc Bekoff generously gave me permission to publish his essay Butts and Noses: Secrets and Lessons from Dog Parks. The essence of the essay being that dog parks are gold mines of information about the behavior of dogs and humans. (Post published by Marc Bekoff Ph.D. on May 16, 2015 in Animal Emotions.)
The good Professor then went on to say that I was free to republish any of his essays so long as the usual accreditations and links were provided. So yesterday, I started going through the many html links in his essay, that essay may be read here, looking for posts that would interest readers of Learning from Dogs.
Very quickly, I came across this:
Dogs and their human companions: The effect of familiarity on dog–human interactions
Andrea Kerepesi (a), Antal Dóka (a), Ádám Miklósi (b)
(a) Department of Ethology, Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary
(b) MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group, Budapest, Hungary
It’s a very interesting piece of research. I’m going to include the Abstract in today’s post and recommend if anyone wants to read the full article that they do so here.
So here is the Abstract.
There are few quantitative examinations of the extent to which dogs discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar persons. In our study we have investigated whether dogs show differential behaviour towards humans of different degrees of familiarity (owner, familiar person, unfamiliar person). Dogs and humans were observed in eight test situations: (1) Three-way strange situation test, (2) Calling in from food, (3) Obedience test, (4) Walking away, (5) Threatening approach, (6) Playful interaction, (7) Food inhibition test and (8) Manipulation of the dog’s body.
Dogs distinguished between the owner and the two other test partners in those tests which involved separation from the owner (Test 1, 4), were aversive for the dog (Test 5) or involved playing interac- tion (Test 6). Our results revealed that the owner cannot be replaced by a familiar person in situations provoking elevated anxiety and fear.
In contrasts, dogs did not discriminate between the owner and the familiar person in those tests that were based on obedient behaviour or behaviour towards an assertive person (Tests 2, 3, 7 and 8). Dogs’ former training experience reduced the difference between their behaviour towards the owner and the familiar person in situations requiring obedience but it did not mask it totally. The dogs’ behaviour towards each of the humans participating in the tests was consistent all over the test series.
In summary, dogs discriminated between their owner and the unfamiliar person and always preferred the owner to the unfamiliar person. However, the discrimination between the owner and the familiar person is context-specific.
This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Canine Behavior.
© 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Time from two very different perspectives.
I started writing this post approaching midnight (UTC) on the afternoon of Tuesday, 26th May, 2015. In other words, approaching 00:00 UTC 26/05/15 (or in American ‘speak’ 05/26/15 – a little thing that is taking me years to become accustomed to.)
At that time, it was fewer than four weeks to the June solstice. Now it was over a week ago and Christmas is just around the corner! (OK, I’ll admit a slight exaggeration!)
However, I thought the TomDispatch essay was just as valid on June 29th as it was on May 26th. So I will continue.
The planet Earth has been in orbit around the sun for a very long time! Time beyond imagination. By comparison, in a very short time one species alone, namely homo sapiens, has altered the biosphere of Planet Earth. It’s almost beyond comprehension!
To expand on that shortage of time, let me republish an essay from TomDispatch from last September. Republished with the kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.
What to Do When You’re Running Out of Time
Posted by Rebecca Solnit at 8:09am, September 18, 2014.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.
Just when no one needed more lousy news, the U.N.’s weather outfit, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), issued its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. It offered a shocking climate-change update: the concentrations of long-lasting greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) rose at a “record-shattering pace” from 2012 to 2013, including the largest increase in CO2 in 30 years — and there was a nasty twist to this news that made it even grimmer.
While such increases reflected the fact that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels at staggering rates, something else seems to be happening as well. Both the oceans and terrestrial plant life act as carbon sinks; that is, they absorb significant amounts of the carbon dioxide we release and store it away. Unfortunately, both may be reaching limits of some sort and seem to be absorbing less. This is genuinely bad news if you’re thinking about the future warming of the planet. (As it happens, in the same period, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, parts of the American public stopped absorbing information in no less striking fashion: the number of those who believe that global warming isn’t happening rose 7% to 23%.)
So consider this a propitious moment for a major climate-change demonstration, possibly the largest in history, in New York City this Sunday. [Ed: it turned out to be the largest climate march in history.] As the WMO’s Secretary-General Michel Jarraud pointed out, there is still time to make a difference. “We have the knowledge and we have the tools,” he said, “for action to try to keep temperature increases within 2°C to give our planet a chance and to give our children and grandchildren a future. Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting.” As TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the indie bestseller Men Explain Things to Me, points out, the pressure of mass movements can sometimes turn history upside down. Of course, the only way to find out if climate change is a candidate for this treatment is to get out in the streets. So, for those of you anywhere near New York, see you this Sunday! Tom
The Wheel Turns, the Boat Rocks, the Sea Rises
Change in a Time of Climate Change
By Rebecca Solnit
There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly — from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.
Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system. They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.
I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.
As you probably know, the actual oceans are rising — almost eight inches since 1880, and that’s only going to accelerate. They’re also acidifying, because they’re absorbing significant amounts of the carbon we continue to pump into the atmosphere at record levels. The ice that covers the polar seas is shrinking, while the ice shields that cover Antarctica and Greenland are melting. The water locked up in all the polar ice, as it’s unlocked by heat, is going to raise sea levels staggeringly, possibly by as much as 200 feet at some point in the future, how distant we do not know. In the temperate latitudes, warming seas breed fiercer hurricanes.
The oceans are changing fast, and for the worse. Fish stocks are dying off, as are shellfish. In many acidified oceanic regions, their shells are actually dissolving or failing to form, which is one of the scariest, most nightmarish things I’ve ever heard. So don’t tell me that we’re rocking a stable boat on calm seas. The glorious 10,000-year period of stable climate in which humanity flourished and then exploded to overrun the Earth and all its ecosystems is over.
But responding to these current cataclysmic changes means taking on people who believe, or at least assert, that those of us who want to react and act are gratuitously disrupting a stable system that’s working fine. It isn’t stable. It is working fine — in the short term and the most limited sense — for oil companies and the people who profit from them and for some of us in the particularly cushy parts of the world who haven’t been impacted yet by weather events like, say, the recent torrential floods in Japan or southern Nevada and Arizona, or the monsoon versions of the same that have devastated parts of India and Pakistan, or the drought that has mummified my beloved California, or the wildfires of Australia.
The problem, of course, is that the people who most benefit from the current arrangements have effectively purchased a lot of politicians, and that a great many of the rest of them are either hopelessly dim or amazingly timid. Most of the Democrats recognize the reality of climate change but not the urgency of doing something about it. Many of the Republicans used to — John McCain has done an amazing about-face from being a sane voice on climate to a shrill denier — and they present a horrific obstacle to any international treaties.
Put it this way: in one country, one party holding 45 out of 100 seats in one legislative house, while serving a minority of the very rich, can basically block what quite a lot of the other seven billion people on Earth want and need, because a two-thirds majority in the Senate must consent to any international treaty the U.S. signs. Which is not to say much for the president, whose drill-baby-drill administration only looks good compared to the petroleum servants he faces, when he bothers to face them and isn’t just one of them. History will despise them all and much of the world does now, but as my mother would have said, they know which side their bread is buttered on.
As it happens, the butter is melting and the bread is getting more expensive. Global grain production is already down several percent thanks to climate change, says a terrifying new United Nations report. Declining crops cause food shortages and rising food prices, creating hunger and even famine for the poorest on Earth, and also sometimes cause massive unrest. Rising bread prices were one factor that helped spark the Arab Spring in 2011. Anyone who argues that doing something about global warming will be too expensive is dodging just how expensive unmitigated climate change is already proving to be.
It’s only a question of whether the very wealthy or the very poor will pay. Putting it that way, however, devalues all the nonmonetary things at stake, from the survival of myriad species to our confidence in the future. And yeah, climate change is here, now. We’ve already lost a lot and we’re going to lose more, but there’s a difference between terrible and apocalyptic. We still have some control over how extreme it gets. That’s not a great choice, but it’s the choice we have. There’s still a window open for action, but it’s closing. As the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Society, Michel Jarraud, bluntly put it recently, “We are running out of time.”
New and Renewable Energies
The future is not yet written. Look at the world we’re in at this very moment. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was supposed to be built years ago, but activists catalyzed by the rural and indigenous communities across whose land it would go have stopped it so far, and made what was supposed to be a done deal a contentious issue. Activists changed the outcome.
Fracking has been challenged on the state level, and banned in townships and counties from upstate New York to central California. (It has also been banned in two Canadian provinces, France, and Bulgaria.) The fossil-fuel divestment movement has achieved a number of remarkable victories in its few bare years of existence and more are on the way. The actual divestments and commitments to divest fossil fuel stocks by various institutions ranging from the city of Seattle to the British Medical Association are striking. But the real power of the movement lies in the way it has called into question the wisdom of investing in fossil fuel corporations. Even mainstream voices like the British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee and publications like Forbes are now beginning to question whether they are safe places to put money. That’s a sea change.
Renewable energy has become more efficient, technologically sophisticated, and cheaper — the price of solar power in relation to the energy it generates has plummeted astonishingly over the past three decades and wind technology keeps getting better. While Americans overall are not yet curtailing their fossil-fuel habits, many individuals and communities are choosing other options, and those options are becoming increasingly viable. A Stanford University scientist has proposed a plan to allow each of the 50 states to run on 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Since, according to the latest report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, fossil fuel reserves still in the ground are “at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level,” it couldn’t be more important to reach global agreements to do things differently on a planetary scale. Notably, most of those carbon reserves must be left untapped and the modest steps already taken locally and ad hoc show that such changes are indeed possible and that an encouraging number of us want to pursue them.
In case you are wondering why this TomDispatch essay has been published some ten months after it first appeared, it is simply because I made a note to leave it for a few months to see if the benefit of some hindsight put the essay into context.
Here’s the context.
In the month of September, 2014, when this essay was published over on TomDispatch, the Atmospheric CO2 monthly average was 395.26 ppm. In April, 2015 it was 403.26 ppm. I can’t spell it out any better than what is written on the home page of CO2Now.org:
What the world needs to watch
Global warming is mainly the result of CO2 levels rising in the Earth’s atmosphere. Both atmospheric CO2 and climate change are accelerating. Climate scientists say we have years, not decades, to stabilize CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
To help the world succeed, CO2Now.org makes it easy to see the most current CO2 level and what it means. So, use this site and keep an eye on CO2. Invite others to do the same. Then we can do more to send CO2 in the right direction.
What an interesting period in man’s history to be alive.
Our Internet service was restored yesterday afternoon! :-)
As you might imagine there is rather a backlog of ‘stuff’ so for today just enjoy the following.
Internet connectivity still an issue.
By the time you read this, one of two things will have happened. Either our existing provider will have given us a firm date for their service to be back to normal, or Jean and I will have placed an order for service from an alternative supplier.
If the latter, as I expect it will be, there will a delay before I can return to posting on a daily basis.
I will update this post accordingly.
Our provider have said that tomorrow (Friday) morning the new equipment will be installed on the wireless mast we link to and a new antenna put in place here at home. Fingers crossed that brings an end to what has been a frustrating few days.