Find happiness in the day-to-day mundane, friends and family and your cat or dog

I’ve just read Giles Coren’s comment article in The Times today, November 11, 2023 which discusses Barbra Streisand’s statement when promoting her memoir in which she said that she hasn’t had fun in her life and that she wants to have some fun now and ‘live life’ which in her words, means:

“I want to get in my husband’s truck and just wander, hopefully with the children somewhere near us. Life is fun for me when they come over. They love playing with the dogs and we have fun.”

Fun, for Barbra Streisand, is just a nice day with the family, with her kids, with her dogs messing around or just driving around with her husband not far from home. In other words, the mundane, but the key element, as I see it, is the presence of family, friends and cats and dogs. Companion animals play a big role in the formula for fun. And of course, other people do too.

Barbra Streisand. Image credit: see base of page.

It seems that to have fun you need to have at least some sort of network of friends if you live alone and if you are lucky enough to have a family who are now grown-up, they should come over and spend some time with you to play with the dogs.

Coren says that he doesn’t have dogs but he lives with a cat as I recall, called Mo Tenzing. And he perhaps thought like most people at one time that to have fun you’ve got to be partying, going to festivals, going on great holidays and doing all the things that news media and the magazines tell us to do if we want to have fun. But it is all a chimera.

Coren realises that he is having fun and he provides us with a long list of the day-to-day things he does involving his family; the routines of life, which include his cat sitting on his lap while he reads a book in bed (The Bee Sting by Paul Murray).

And interestingly, while I’m dictating this article, my cat is on my lap and I am in bed. He is interfering with my operation of the computer but I allow him to do this because it’s more fun this way. He provides me with some emotional warmth. He is my companion.

I do have a small network of friends but I would like a larger network as I live alone. And being almost 75, my life is one of maintenance; maintaining myself, my cat, my home, my car, my garden and my sanity.

These are mundane things, routines (which cats love by the way) but we need to take pleasure from and do them better every day. Take pleasure in doing them better.

Barbra Streisand’s definition of having fun might surprise people. It is somewhat of a revelation from a person who to others was living a life of fun. A highly successful life with desirable, hunky husbands. A highly successful career with Oscars, Emmys, Tonys and Grammys. She sold millions of records and made millions of dollars. She must live in a beautiful house and her husband has got to be a very nice man.

But for decades, she wasn’t having fun. She didn’t like the business I guess and she had some bad experiences. Perhaps it is fair to say that someone who is so high profile and in the public eye so much, the mundane and normal, at home, out of sight, truly is the definition of fun.

RELATED: A voice for the voiceless is the privilege of celebrities

P.S. When you become an old person, you can’t have fun without health. You got to focus on your health which means doing some basic old-fashioned things like eating properly, not eating too much, being slightly hungry after you’ve eaten, exercising moderately, not smoking, staying off the booze. Keeping down your weight is very important. Your BMI should be between 20-25. The bedrock of happiness in old age is to be as healthy as possible and then you build on that in the way I describe above.

RELATED: Improving the health of cat caregivers through prescriptions for fruit and veg!

Image credit: By NIH Image Gallery from Bethesda, Maryland, USA – Barbra Streisand with Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91827976

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Happy cat campaign tip 1 – the discarded cardboard box

I am running two campaigns at the moment and they overlap. One is to promote domestic cat happiness. Sounds childish almost but it’s not. It’s about remembering our responsibilities towards our cat companions. After providing security, warmth and sustenance it is down to cat caregivers to make their cat happy! Of course, the owner has to be happy or at least not unhappy. It is difficult to want to behave altruistically when one is unhappy.

A lot of cat owners are older people, some elderly. With old age there is ill-health. On average people over 75 suffer from a chronic illness of some sort and take five pills daily! For the elderly health is the number one priority. Being healthy it is much easier to be happy and even tempered. This is important in cat caregiving.

The discarded cardboard box

Click on the top 2 thumbnails to see larger versions if you wish.

This is a discarded cardboard box that contained a bread bin that I bought from Amazon. I threw the box away and retrieved it. Cut the flaps off the end and placed it on the floor in an empty bedroom my cat was using for sleeping. Only he was out in the open. I knew that if I placed the box in the room, he’d use it and he did the next day.

The reason is one we all know about: cats like the feeling of security that a ‘roof’ brings to their ‘bedroom’. And with three walls as well he found a near ideal bedroom that was free.

It is a nothing tip. A nothing job for the cat caregiver but a big difference to the life of a cat as they are happier.

My cat is pretty confident so his love of boxes is not down to a desire to hide due to timidity. It is a simple wildcat ancestor response. This is the kind of den that a wild cat would sleep in. For example, below is a picture bobcats sleeping in the hollowed-out trunk of a fallen tree. Same thing. Of course, the bobcat is not the wild cat ancestor of the domestic cat but the same emotional needs apply to the North African wildcat.

Bobcat family sleeping in a perfectly hollowed out tree trunk
Cosy hollowed out tree truck for what appears to be 2 mothers and offspring. Photo in public domain.

And below is another tree den for a bobcat cub:

Bobcat den in tree trunk
Bobcat den in tree trunk. Photo: Pinterest.

Making a cat happy need not be expensive. It does take a little thought and time however. And an attitude that says a cat owner needs to think about ways to make their cat happy.

I don’t believe that it is enough to feed a cat and ignore them a lot of the time. A lot of people think domestic cats are independent which is why they disappear but sometimes they disappear for hours because the connection between owner and cat is loose. They are not bonded. It is about how to create a bond with your cat which is part of making your cat happy. The link below goes to a page which discusses this.

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Infographic on 8 habits that could add 24 years to your life (and improve cat caregiving)

I found the headline compelling. So neat and well packaged. Almost utopian. But it is common sense really as so much of good living is.

What’s it got to do with cats you ask?! Well, everything in a way. I am looking at the human-to-cat relationship from the viewpoint of the cat. How many cats are abandoned by their owner not because he or she was neglectful and a poor caregiver but because they died prematurely? A lot. And the cats left behind are often old themselves and shelters are sometimes unable to rehome them.

If you feel healthier, you’ll feel happier. A happier cat owner is a better and more loving cat caregiver. Feeling ill makes people irritable. They will find it harder to act in a way that is pleasant to a cat.

Michael
Infographic on 8 habits that could add 24 years to your life
Infographic on 8 habits that could add 24 years to your life

There is also the obvious matter of a cat caregiver remaining as healthy as possible into old age to enable them to better care for their cat. From the cat’s perspective that is very important! Take three of the points:

  • Managing stress
  • Not regularly binge drinking
  • Not abusing opioid drugs.

All three directly affect the quality of cat caregiving. Stressed? You are less likely to interact with your cat is a gentle and friendly way. Drinking – the same! Opioids? Asleep and no cat caregiving.

As I said these 8 points improve life generally and keep the caregiver in a better physical and mental condition to be good cat owners.

One of the 8 points is particularly interesting: sleep hygiene (which I felt I needed to explain in the infographic). The cynical among us might argue that living with a cat automatically reduces ‘sleep hygiene’ as cats generally tend to disturb sleep. Fair point and one that is hard to argue against.

But the truth is though that humans and cats adapt to their often-opposing circadian rhythms. Full-time indoor cats will tend to sleep more because of a lack of challenges. Their circadian rhythm adjusts to that of the human. They’ll sleep at night more often and will disturb their owner less I’d say.

Cat wakes up owner by nipping their nose
Cat wakes up owner by nipping their nose. My female cat did this. So cute and a little irritating. Screenshot.

Indoor-outdoor cats will go outside at night and come in several times and perhaps jump on the bed to check up on their caregiver. They might wake them up. But you get used to it and in any case if you are old like me, you’ll be getting up to go to the loo all the time anyway! Same difference: disturbed sleep.

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9 ways to be happier including learning from your cat

Here are 9 ways to be happier which includes learning from your cat. According to Meik Wiking, the founder and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (HRI) in Denmark there are eight ways to be happier and one of them means learning from your cat’s behaviour, so I’ll start with that. I have made it 9 ways which are listed below.

9 ways to be happier which includes learning from your cat
9 ways to be happier which includes learning from your cat. Image: MikeB from an image provided by Pixabay.

Sit by a sunny window

Cats love to sit by a sunny window. We all know that. They like the warmth. For humans there is an added advantage which is the light, “an overlooked element in our well-being” according to Wiking. His research found that people tend to be happier in homes where there is more natural light. Inadequate daylight in your home increases the chance of depression. Even in winter people should chase the sun which means sitting by a window to expose themselves to natural light. Wiking said: “We have a terraced house. I’m on the top floor, near the window, where the light comes in at this time of day. I’m basically like a cat. I’m going where the light is”.

We can learn from our cat.

Control the small things in your life

My understanding is that we can’t control a lot of our lives, but we are able to control the small things which we can change. This helps to remove a feeling of powerlessness. And people are in charge of how they respond to things even if those things are out of their control. This also leads to feeling of being in control. A feeling of powerlessness brings people down. Wiking said: “I don’t have an influence over what is happening with the economy, but I do have an influence over what we are having for dinner tonight”.

Moderate expectations and find joy in the small things

Happiness is not feeling upbeat most of the time. Wiking has a particular definition of happiness which is: “The experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.”

Enjoy the small joys in life. For me, after working hard, it is having a cup of tea in front of the television with my cat on my lap or walking in Richmond Park with a friend. And bad experiences can be a learning process to help us find a sense of purpose. I think this is about what I call “expectation management”. We need to accept and expect times of unhappiness because they are normal. If we feel negative or angry, we should reflect on those emotions. Clearly, Wiking’s methods of being happier require self-discipline and the ability to be objective about oneself.

Take the long view

There will be ups and downs, good and bad times but if you take the long view knowing that you will pass through bad times, you’ll feel happier. Wiking says that it is important to distinguish between how you feel now and how you feel overall in your life.

Feel a sense of connection with other people

Good communication is important in creating a strong ‘social fabric’ and a strong social fabric or network is important to happiness. A study published in Psychological Science found a link between how people converse and their happiness. The conclusion apparently is that “Higher levels of well-being were associated with spending more time talking to others and further associated with having more meaningful conversations and less small talk”. One way to facilitate this if you are feeling down is to use your hands such as playing cards. This removes awkward silences.

Family mealtimes

If you live with a family, family meals are linked with fewer depressive symptoms in teenagers. And they boost contentment for adults, too. Mealtimes are a time to bond. “Sharing a meal with a friend or family is a source of happiness”, Wiking says. He also says: “It’s the single best thing we can do for our kids in terms of benefits for physical and mental health”. Mealtimes are generally too short, and they should be lengthened. Many families do not have a set mealtime when they sit around a table in the old-fashioned way. And he suggests that using candlelight at mealtime encourages teenagers to stay and chat. And when they chat, they can offload some of their anxieties.

Don’t chase money to find happiness

This is a reference to the old adage that money does not make you happy. It matters but my interpretation is that if you’ve got enough money to provide for the basics then you can find happiness in other ways. To use his words, you need to ‘decouple’ happiness from money. When HRI asked more than 13,000 people what creates a happy home he said: “Almost nobody mentioned things or stuff”. They talked about aspects of living such as belonging, laughter and love.

Food is important to happiness

The basic mantra is that good food is fundamental to the good life according to Wiking. He is not only referring to the quality of the nutrients in food, but the pleasure gained from simple home cooking from ingredients that you have grown yourself for example. And in Sweden they have a basic rule which is that you keep seven days’ worth of food in your pantry or freezer as a kind of backup in case it snows so badly you can’t get out of the home. Apparently keeping a reasonably well stocked food supply as a source of happiness. It boosts morale. It seems that in doing this you are doing something meaningful and to which you are committed. This is one way to improve happiness levels.

Being outside and in nature

This is one of my pet topics. I believe that you can achieve an instant improvement in your happiness quotient by going outside, perhaps twice a day or at least once for a one hour, walking around a forest or a park, to feel nature, to feel the trees and to absorb that feeling. Walking as an activity is also important so combine it with soaking up the natural environment. This is like balm to a troubled mind in my view. I think people need to connect with nature because in doing so they are connecting with their roots because humans come from nature. Those are my views not Mr Wiking’s.

However, researchers at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark found that people who are outside in daylight for two hours per day have a 40% lower risk of becoming depressed. Wiking believes that walking in say a wood or forest brings a sense of calm because the trees have been standing for centuries.

I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Anybody who feels depressed should go out into a wood or forest with a friend if you want to feel reassured because I understand that for some women it is too scary to go into a forest alone, and soak up the feeling. Let the trees talk to you. That sounds a bit airy fairy but when you get into it you will understand it. Even talk back 👌✔️. I do sometimes.

Mr Wiking has a book out now, published by Penguin Life, My Hygge Home. It is priced at £16.99 p in the UK. I’m thankful to The Times newspaper for this information and Mr Wiking was interviewed by Anna Maxted.

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