How to Catch a Squirrel …the importance of optimism…
As you know, I spend most of my time sleeping, sniffing around, cuddling up with Handsome, and hunting. It’s a good life.
But sometimes I like to pay attention to new research. For example, an interesting study just came out from University College London. They had some people guess the likelihood that something good would happen to them. Maybe they’d say “a one-out-of-five chance.” Then they told them that the odds of that thing happening to someone was twice that. And when they did, most of those people would change their minds, and figure that now their chances were better, say “a two-out-of-five chance.” But when they told those people that the odds were worse, say “a one-out-of-ten chance,” they found that the people did not adjust their beliefs about that good thing happening to them. They kept it at, say, one-out-of five.
This says a lot about you folks!
To put it in less confusing terms, what they found is that people are naturally optimistic. You humans will take good news as proof that things are getting better, but take bad news as not so bad. Some people will say this means people are stupid, or can’t learn. But I disagree. In fact, I think it’s necessary for you to be this way. You see, it all comes down to Squirrel-Chasing…
We pups are programmed deep in our brain to chase animals. And those of us who live with suburban humans usually don’t see a lot of antelope or monkeys to chase… but we see a lot of squirrels. And where I reside, these sassy, chattery, rude little beasties like to run over my roof and make all sorts of noise. And so, just like any other dog, I just live to chase them every chance I get.
Now that means I might chase five or ten squirrels a day. So how often do you think I catch one? Once a day? Not on your life. Once a week? Nope. Once a month?! Uh uh. Try maybe once a year. Mathematically (and no, I couldn’t figure this out, but Handsome is good with numbers), that means my odds of catching a little seed-nabber are somewhere between eighteen hundred and three thousand six hundred… to one!!!
Now those are some pretty awful odds. But does that keep me from chasing them? No Way!
Because I know that every time I chase one of those little guys, there’s a chance I’ll get him. And even though the chances aren’t very good, I know that the more I try, the faster I get, the more tricks I’ll learn (like guessing which tree the varmint will run to), and the better those chances get.
Meanwhile, this also gives me some added benefits: my life stays fun, I don’t get so bored when Handsome’s not around, and I stay beautifully fit from the exercise! While, if my brain concentrated on the probability of my failing to catch one of these little monsters, I’d sit around home lazy all day, depressed, lonely, and fat.
In fact, do you know what the definition of “depression” is? It’s having the exact opposite of that natural optimism you guys and I tend to have. It’s lacking hope, lacking the belief that things will go your way, and seeing no reason to do anything because things are just going to stay lousy, or even get worse. It’s just as unrealistic as the optimism, but without the fun (and without the occasional triumph of a squirrel in your clutches!!!).
So here’s my theory about all this: Some people, and some dogs, have always been more or less optimistic. But over time, the people (and the dogs) who weren’t optimistic enough to believe in possibilities better than the reality they faced didn’t survive! They had to believe things were a lot better than they were, in order to make things a little better than they were, throughout history. Really, it was the only way to make their lives any good at all. So that optimism, to my mind, isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength!
However, meanwhile, there’s another side to all this. Some people, using this same optimism, will say that nothing bad will ever happen to them. They’ll drive drunk, or take dangerous drugs, or get into relationships with bad types, thinking they’re safe, when they’re really not. So that that same optimism that makes some lives better can make their lives worse – or even end them!
So here’s my request for you, my dear friends. Let your optimism make you try way harder. Let that optimism get you to take daring risks. Let it make you brave and romantic and impetuous.
But don’t let it make you stupid. Don’t let it make you forget how valuable you are, to everyone who loves you today, and everyone who might meet you in the future.
You see, if I chase a squirrel in my yard, Handsome has no trouble with it (though I often sense he’s cheering the squirrel on to get away from me!). But if I chase a squirrel across a street, it makes his heart stop. He’s terrified. He knows I could get hit by a car anytime, and it scares the daylights out of him. And I know he’s right – but I also forget, because that squirrel (or cat, or whatever) is right there, running, in my sight.
So my request to you is the same as his to me: Run like crazy and live your life to the fullest. But don’t take risks that are too foolhardy. Use your brains.
And live to be optimistic another day!