You hear a lot these days about the mental and physical advantages of mindfulness training. This ancient discipline has much to offer those of us in the modern world, including people struggling with mental illness or substance addiction issues. But there’s no need to switch religions or move to California to enjoy the benefits that come from adopting a more mindful attitude. All you need is a pet dog. That’s because, as canine owners have long noticed, dogs are adept at living in the moment. Our four-legged friends are masters of the mental discipline that millions of Westerners are now trying to develop. Think about that the next time you see a dog running around looking for a place to pee. There’s a guru underneath all that fur, one with lessons to teach us poor, unenlightened humans. So let’s open our ears and listen to what the animals are saying.

No Past. No Future. Only the Present Moment.

There’s no doubt that our species has come a long way during its time on earth. We’ve learned how to feed billions of people, eradicate numerous illnesses, and communicate with each other at the speed of light. Heck, we’ve even developed microwavable burritos.

All that progress comes at a cost, however. We focus so much on what’s ahead that we forget what’s in front of us right now. Consider all the things going on around you while you’re reading this article. Your heart is pumping blood through your veins. Your lungs are burning oxygen. Your senses are collecting data from the surrounding world and setting it to your brain for processing.

That’s not to mention what’s happening right outside your window and in the world beyond. There’s a rich tapestry of sensations in your environment to which you’re paying little or no attention. That’s because your mind is concerned about what the tomorrow may bring. And, while you contemplate the future, you allow the treasures of the present moment to slip away.

“Big deal,” you may say. “I don’t have time to listen to birds sing. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.” Fair enough; we all have to pay our bills. But, while you’re thinking about what’s to come, worry and stress are wreaking havoc with your body and mind in the here and now. Consider the following:

  • According to Psychology Today, worrying can raise your blood pressure, impair your immune system, and put you at greater risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes.
  • Worry robs you of much-needed sleep, causing your work performance to slip and, ironically, giving you more to worry about.
  • Worry can make those in addiction recovery more likely to relapse, perpetuating a destructive cycle with catastrophic results.

The good news is that mindfulness counteracts the effects of anxiety and depression, according to an article published in the Huffington Post. And one way to become more mindful is to adopt a dog. Here’s how owning a pet can make you more aware of the present moment:

  • By providing an example of a carefree, happy nature that takes delight in even the simplest things. Seeing your pet jump with joy over a tasty treat or a moment of praise is all it takes to remember what’s really important in life.
  • By showing us unconditional love. Knowing that we have a faithful friend who accepts us just like we are can soothe the most troubled mind.
  • By cheering us up when we’re feeling down. A pup can do more good than a truckload of antidepressant medication. Plus, a dog is a lot more affordable.

The Delightfully Addictive Qualities of Pets

Substance abuse disorders are among the most challenging personal struggles anyone can face. Achieving long-term sobriety requires not only willpower but the help of a personal support network. That’s where pets come into the picture. They inspire us to strive for personal improvement by giving us their complete trust. That kind of motivation is exactly what those struggling with addiction need. Think of your pup as your own personal life coach, one who never bills you for her time or takes days off. What more could you want?

Harnessing the power of mindfulness is a great way to overcome obstacles and live more a fulfilling life. Dogs help us to master that ability, making them an essential part of our lives both now and down the road.