Today is a very special day for a teeny tiny member of the Vasquez family – it’s Coco’s second birthday! For those who may not know, Coco is a miniature Yorkshire terrier with the breed’s characteristically BIG personality. She is endlessly full of energy, friendly to a fault and completely oblivious to her diminutive stature and the fact that she is not human. As I am someone who works from home alone during the days, she has been the perfect companion (sleeping curled up on my lap as I write this now) and adds so much joy and liveliness to our home. We didn’t have any while I was growing up, but I really have come to see firsthand the benefits of pet ownership. According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pets can serve “to improve owners’ happiness, well-being, and even their physical health.” Throughout several studies, researchers found that “pet owners exhibited greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, were less lonely, were more conscientious, were more socially outgoing, and had healthier relationship styles (i.e., they were less fearful and less preoccupied) than nonowners… [and these] people did not turn to pets because their human social support was poor – instead, owners seem to extend their general human social competencies to their pets as well.” Another study showed that “those who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships”
Last week I wrote about finding cues or prompts to evoke reflection and feelings of gratitude in our everyday lives. And each time I come home and am greeted by that exuberant little puppy, it reminds me that I am thankful her and thankful to be home. Moreover she has reminded me of a few other key life lessons. Here are some things I learned from my dog:
- When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. No matter what, Coco is ecstatic whenever I walk through the door. She actually gets so excited that sometimes she lets out little cries of joy and starts running around circles. In Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, one of her Happiness Project resolutions (inspired by John Gottman’s work) was to “Give warm greetings and farewells.” Her entire family began to make an effort to stop whatever they were doing to say a proper and affectionate hello or goodbye whenever one was entering or exiting their home. It was often an interruption to whatever task was at hand, but she found that it made a big difference in their feelings of connection and closeness.
- Be a connector and give everyone a chance. One thing dogs are famous for is their ability to bring people together. Coco is endlessly making new friends, whether fellow canine or human everywhere we go. She is always friendly, open, and excited to meet someone new. Nearly every time I take her out, we are stopped by someone to say hello or to comment on adorable she is. She laps up the attention, wags her tail a bit harder, and scampers off with even more energy after each encounter. Dogs have a way of connecting people and I have often met someone new including entire communities of other dog owners at the park simply because of Coco.
- Keep your priorities in check and be contented. Although she is overjoyed to see me upon my arrival home, Coco is always disappointed when I don’t take her with me. She doesn’t mind whatever we are doing as long as we are together. Spending time with Jon or me is her main priority, so she is always ready to go wherever and do whatever as long as she is with us. When I am at home working or reading, she likes to lie next to me cuddled up tightly. When we go shopping, she likes to ride along in my purse. She doesn’t complain as long as we are together – and if we are going to the park, she is thrilled!
- Giving of yourself makes you happy. As I care for Coco or take time to stop whatever I am doing to play fetch or chase her up and down the stairs, I am reminded that usually I am happiest when I am able to contribute to someone else’s happiness. It’s good to be others focused. Throughout my own Happiness Project, two of my resolutions that make me consistently the most happy are the instances in which I can “be generous” and when I can “give proofs of love.” I like all the task-y type things which allow me to easily check the box, like monitoring my spending or brainstorming for 5 minutes, or keeping a gratitude journal, but the ones that most noticeably elevate my disposition are those with an aspect of giving. And Coco is a very happy recipent of my time, energy and attention. The exuberance that she displays when I stop to fully concentrate and play with her or chase her around the house warms my heart. She loves to walk at her own pace and slowing down to allow her to do that is another way I can show her my love and she does appreciate it.
So happy birthday Coco! She’ll be celebrating with some plain boiled chicken – her absolute favorite. I on the other hand will be enjoying a chicken lunch with a bit more pizazz – my Whole30 and Paleo Chicken Fajita Salad with a delicious dressing made by combining two of my favorite go-to sauces, Chimichurri and Paleo Mayo. It’s easy to throw together or make in advance and I can keep the sauces separate for other dishes throughout the week or I can use this salad to use up any extra I might already have on hand. I love being able to mix and match ingredients and meal prep to spice things up while eliminating extra work or waste! And as I eat today, I’ll be celebrating Coco and appreciating the daily reminders and lessons learned from my dog.
- Chicken Breast 4-6 oz (100 - 150 g)
- Coconut Oil, Melted .5 TSP
- Black Pepper, Sea Salt and Red Pepper to taste
- Romaine/Cos Lettuce, Chopped 1.5 cup (120 g)
- Sliced Yellow Onion 2 oz (75 g)
- Sliced Bell Pepper 2 oz (90 g)
- Ghee 1 TBSP
- Avocado .5 each
- Sliced Tomato .5 each
- Paleo Mayo 1 TBSP - recipe here
- Chimichurri Sauce 2 TBSP - link here
- Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C and line a baking sheet with foil
- Place the chicken on the foil drizzling with the melted coconut oil and sprinkle with salt, black and red pepper to your desired level
- Bake in the oven for about 15 - 20 minutes or until done. Remove and slice.
- While the chicken is baking, toss the peppers and onions in the melted ghee and add salt and black pepper to your desired level
- Over medium high heat, sautée the peppers and onions until slightly softened and cooked through
- In the meantime, prepare the salad by chopping the romaine/cos, the tomato and avocado and building your plate.
- Top with the sautéed veggies and the chicken when finished
- In a small bowl whisk together the paleo mayo and the chimichurri to combine and drizzle over the salad