The Tao of Animal Living

don't ask why. ask why not.

The Tao of Animal Living


We often think of ourselves as the special mammal, the only animal capable for forethought, insight, and compassion. Yet more and more evidence from the animal world suggest that many of our cousins in the animal kingdom demonstrate similar characteristics and moral behaviors as humans (have you seen the bit about chimpanzees preferring cooked food?). We watch photos of lions sunning themselves and panda bears enjoying a roll in bamboo. We watch countless YouTube videos of cats doing cat things. Animals often seem so present and content with just how things are. They of course have to worry and stress about survival (usually, from humans), but they seem to also know something about living that we don’t – that is, to simply live, rather than worry and over analyze what they don’t have but think they should. While humans may have more grey matter than enable us to question (and manipulate and over analyze), there are some great lessons we can learn from non humans and live more like animals, that is to live rather than live for someone else’s expectations.

Animal Mortality

Frans de Waal share some fascinating research from the animal kingdom that suggest non-human animals often demonstrate seemingly human-only moral characteristics of reciprocity, empathy, and cooperation. Perhaps the “human” emotions that help us to relate as a society is not so “human” after all.

“Look up, laugh loud, talk big, keep the color in your cheek and the fire in our eye, adorn your person, maintain your health, your beauty and your animal spirits.”

~ William Hazlitt

The Tao of Animal Living

Animals often get living right.

  1. Stop and smell the roses

And the trees…and the rocks…and the grass. Ever “walked” with a puppy? Puppies don’t walk; they meander from one awesome smelling thing to another. They don’t seem to be rushed to get to a particular destination because they know it’s not about the end goal – it’s about pausing and enjoying the little pleasures in life.

  1. Greet everyone with a wag

Imagine if people smiled at strangers. The world could be a far nicer place. This is because a smile is not necessarily an invitation for a long conversation or to be creepy. A smile can be a simple acknowledgment of the other person. Period. A simple acknowledgment can open a whole new world that is friendly, kinder, and far more fun. Yet most of us walk around with our heads down, staring at our phones, as if eye contact would the Worst Thing Ever. Like animals, a friendly nod can even pave the way for a broader network of others who might be more open to collaboration rather than nameless faces on the street each fearful of being the first to make contact.

3. Don’t lose enthusiasm

Animals don’t seem to lose enthusiasm for much. Dogs, for example, seem as excited about a meal or a ball, as if it’s the first time they have seen one. But it’s because they see each moment as wonderful and exciting. So whether it’s the first ball they’ve chased or the 1,000, it’s still awesome, amazing, and brilliant. If we can harness just a bit of that enthusiasm and not lose sight of why things are wonderful, perhaps we won’t take as much for granted as we often do.

  1. Stay curious

Curiosity killed the cat…or did it? Animals are not embarrassed when they see something they don’t understand. Rather, they stop, tilt their heads, and try to see what’s happening. They might not ever figure out how a bicycle works, but they certainly get that it’s strange and different and worthy of pausing to look. Human children do the same thing, but as we get older, we sometimes become “so smart,” that we think we know everything we need to and don’t see the point in continuing to learn, or we get embarrassed when we don’t understand something so we pretend we do. If we put away any shame or embarrassment in not knowing and instead, embrace and maintain a love of learning and the unknown, we will always grow.

  1. Trust your instinct

Animals don’t second guess themselves. Or those that do probably get eaten twice as often. While humans also have complex thinking so that we are simply always in flight or fight mode, we could learn from animals in also trusting our gut feelings. We often ignore them as we try to rationalize things away, but usually, our instincts are right. This is not because they are animalistic in that they are merely reactions, but rather, they are part of our unconscious thought processes that are occurring without us even being aware of it.