Saturday, September 10, 2011

Happiness

I just came back from a very short business trip to Vancouver.

I love Vancouver. The seawall, noble Stanley Park, shopping on Robson and Burrard Streets, good Okanagan Valley wine... Sigh... If only I could afford to live there...

If I could afford it, there is no doubt in my mind that I would live in Yaletown.

For those less familiar with Yaletown, it is an uber trendy neighbourhood in the southeast corner of downtown Vancouver, recognizable from a distance by the high rise condo towers that pepper the Vancouver skyline. It likes to dub itself "little Soho", a nod to this NYC mecca of fabulous restaurants, hip night clubs, and off-beat shops.

My husband insists we go there every single time because his favourite wine store, which carries impossible-to-get-back-home BC wines, is there. I insist we go there for everything else: shopping in unique and trendy stores, fantastic seafood restaurants, a local brewpub that makes a mean wheat beer, and the best opportunity for celebrity sightings in Canada outside of the Toronto International Film Festival. (Although I've yet to sight a celebrity, a good friend of mine can point out the exact Starbucks where she saw Scarlett Johanson and Ryan Reynolds. How cool is that!!!!)

So during my very short less-than-48 hour sojourn in Vancouver just this past week, I made sure that I crammed in as many trips to Yaletown as I could (as well as an 11.5k run around the Stanley Park seawall at sunrise, which was freaking AWESOME!), where I bought some Okanagan wine for hubby, drank some local beer, did some window shopping, hung out with a great friend, and got a pedicure.

I also did a lot of people-watching, one of my favourite hobbies. And aside from the excitement of possibly spotting a celebrity, people-watching in Yaletown is doubly fun because of all the dogs.

Take a stroll through the streets of Yaletown and you could be forgiven for believing that the expression "everyone and his dog" has its humble origins in Vancouver. Everyone in Yaletown has a dog. Everyone. It's like the City of Vancouver passed a bylaw stating that all dog owners must live in Yaletown. Or that all Yaletown residents must own a dog. If a person is walking down the street without a leash in their hands, they are either walking home from work and on their way to being reunited with their dog, or they are tourists like me.

And everyone in Yaletown looks, well, happy. People smile at one another as they pass by on the street. They laugh as they get tangled up in one another's leashes while their puppies say hello. They coo and "aaahhhh" and giggle at doggy antics. And they swap stories about the best place in town for a doggy paw-dicure, or the best dog walker, or the best vet clinic...  It is just so clear that they love their dogs deeply, and that their dogs bring them immeasurable joy.

Hubby and I experienced something similar when we were travelling in Spain earlier this spring, just before the Beast came home to live with us. We were in the Basque capital of San Sebastiàn, nestled in the Pyrenees, known mostly for it's incredible food - especially tapas - and its Old World charm. What the travel books did not tell us was that this is a dog lover's haven. Much like Yaletown, everyone who is not a tourist seems to own a dog. Most of them are even off leash, loyally and obediently right beside their owners. I spent entire afternoons watching people and their dogs. Like the boxer on the beach who stood looking out over the water, tongue dragging on the sand, waiting to attack the next wave as it rolled onto the shore. Or the Dalmatian who played soccer with a little boy, actually kicking the ball back and forth to him along the beach. Or the hound who signalled to his owner that he wanted a drink of water by sitting nicely at the water fountain, and then standing on his hind legs to gently lap water up while his owner pushed the little button.

I just felt happy, watching other people love their dogs.

And it got me thinking. Exactly what is it about dogs that makes humans so happy?

I suppose I could spout off the regular list: unconditional love, loyalty, playfulness, joy for life. And I'd be right - those are all valid reasons for why dogs make people so happy. But the truth is that there isn't a one-and-only thing about dogs that makes people smile from ear to ear and break into gushing baby talk whenever a puppy is around.

Take my new life with the Beast, for example. There are thousands of things about him that I love, little quirks that inspire me to feel true and meaningful happiness in the moment that I observe them. Like how each morning, he comes up to me for a "hug" by putting his head in my lap for an ear rub, bum checking me a little, and giving me one or two licks on the face. Or how he gets this goofy smile on his face when he wants to play. Or how he rolls onto his back, exposes his belly for a good belly rub, and then starts to do yoga poses by slapping his front paws together in front of his heart. Or that his ears give away his every thought and mood. How he cocks his head to one side when he sees something new for the first time - like the DVD player opening up - and tries to figure it out. How he gnaws on his deer antler with more focus and determination than an Olympic athlete chasing down a gold medal. How he loves to swim, even though he is so bad at it that all the other dogs lap him every time. How he wags his whole bum because his tail is bobbed. How he paces back and forth across the living room floor until he finds the perfect spot to lay in. How he could play fetch for hours on end, and then finally collapses in a heap when he's had enough. The sound of a big "sigh" when he finally releases all of his energy at the end of the day. The way he breaks into a beautiful, graceful gallop across the park when I let him off his leash. The way he sometimes runs too fast, then tries to turn around a sharp corner, only to clumsily stumble over his own front paws. That everything in life is so fascinating to him, and that he has to be part of every single action taking place in the world around him. How his entire body wiggles with excitement whenever he figures out that my husband is about to walk through the front door.

I love a thousand more things about him. And even on his worst of days, when everything that he does seems designed to drive me up a wall, all he has to do is one of these small little things, and I smile from ear to ear.

I already had a beautiful, rich, and fulfilling life before the Beast walked into my home. But the fact of the matter is that I am happier now that he is a part of it. And I simply can't imagine life without him and all of his quirks and issues.

The only way life could possibly be better is if I were to move to Yaletown...

Or better yet, to San Sebastiàn.