I love my pets. I consider them to be part of the family as they are an integral part to my happiness and well-being. A family member recently informed me that there is now a process in which people who fly within the US can actually pay a fee and have their furry friends fly them with them, yes in the cabin sitting right next to you during your flight. My love for my furry friends is so great that I have priced what it would cost to have my ‘dog children’ fly with me; I know, I am one of those pet owners. However, this idea got me thinking on the social relationships that can develop between individuals and their four-legged friends. I started asking myself questions like ‘are people who own pets happier than those who don’t’ and ‘what mental benefits, if any, are there to owning a pet’? After doing some digging around and researching, I was able to find some studies that investigated these types of questions and the results were surprising…
McConnell and his associates (Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) performed a sequence of studies that investigated the connection between pets and their owners. What their studies concluded was that pets provided significant social support for owners, which in turn is improving their owners lives. In one of McConnell’s studies, results concluded that individuals who owned pets demonstrated signs of less loneliness, greater self-esteem, healthier relationship styles, were more healthy and physically fit, and were more socially outgoing than their non pet owner counterparts. Additionally, pet owners reported during the research that they received just as much support from their furry friends as they did from their human support group.
In a second study that McConnell and his colleagues performed pet owners reported that their four-legged friends satisfied their social needs more effectively than their human counterparts. For example, some research participants claimed that their pets offered a greater and more satisfactory sense of belongingness, improved their self-esteem more successfully, assisted in a providing a more meaningful feeling of existence, as well as better helped in areas of self-control as compared to the support they received from their human connections. Additionally, some participants stated that they felt less depresses and stress-out than they did prior to having pets.
In the last study that McConnell performed, researchers wanted to investigate if pet owners actually had to be in physical contact with their pets to receive the positive side effects of the relationship. What the research concluded was that pet owners simply had to think of their furry friend to experience the positive effects from the bond. When put in socially isolating situations, pet owners were more effectively able to ward off negative feelings simply by thinking of their relationship with their pets. Personally speaking, I have had my fair share of socially awkward situations and thinking about my dog children has made the uncomfortable atmosphere more manageable. I know that they will be home and happy to see me as soon as I walk through the front door and the idea of that kind of connection is satisfying in and of itself.
In conclusion, it is important to note that this article is not saying that pets are the cure all for mental well-being and overall happiness. Even though how wonderful that may sound to some I am not advocating that if you buy a pet all your worries will melt away. Instead, I believe that it is the relationship with the animal itself that makes the difference. Pets are a large responsibility and cost time, energy, and money; they are not for every individual. As my boyfriend says, our dog Daisy ‘is the most expensive free dog ever’ as she has sensitive skin and requires regular trips to the vet. However, if you do have the time, energy and money to develop a relationship with a furry friend then go for it; you just might be surprised on how meaningful the relationship grows, as your pet is one of the only things that will love you more than he loves himself.
Until next time--take care of yourself, take care of your mind.
Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-Associate
Supervised By: Tammy Fisher, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha
McConnell, A. R., Brown, C. M., Shoda, T. M., Stayton, L. E., & Martin, C. E. (in press). Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology