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I’m happy – sing along with Pharrell Williams on your own, or sing it with your emotional support animal. Emotional support animals, aka ESAs, can indeed be a key component of what happiness is to you! How so? Let’s take a look generally at a few questions around what happiness may be. And, of course, what an ESA is and how one may help you be happier.
What Is Happiness?
Happiness is one of those things that is very hard to pinpoint and define. Many great philosophers have pondered over it for eons and still do. Writers of dictionary definitions often state happiness as something big and broad, such as the state of being happy. But what does that mean? You laugh out loud a lot? You grin like a Cheshire cat all the time?
Being happy is widely defined as being content, feeling a sense of joy, pleasure, success, enjoying life, and so on. All of which really depends on what makes you feel good as an individual. So if happiness is an individual and subjective thing, how do you get there?
Feeling happier isn’t something that just always happens in isolation as the result of just one thing or a single event. Although, of course, there are very many happy occasions to be had! The trick is to drill down and reflect on what it actually is. Think about something, someone, or a situation that contributes to your overall wellbeing. It may be obvious, but oftentimes, it is not quite so transparent.
What Are Emotional Support Animals Then?
Emotional Support Animals, aka ESAs – they’ve gotten a lot of press coverage in recent years, both good and bad. You may know someone with an emotional support animal. Or someone may have suggested you think about whether one may be right for you.
Technically, any type of animal can be an emotional support animal. What is important is the bond and connection the person feels with their animal. Mostly though, emotional support animals are dogs and cats. Yes, the very same responsive types of companion animals that we have interacted with and had living alongside us for centuries.
Emotional support animals are ‘prescribed’ by mental health professionals. They can help someone manage one of many different types of conditions. Things like clinical depression, stress, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder can all qualify for an ESA. The scope of qualifying conditions is broad and includes a range of disorders listed in the DSM-5.
ESAs aren’t a cure, nor are they the only method of treatment. They are usually recommended for people who have an emotional or mental condition that impacts, limits or disables them in some way. An emotional support animal will be a part of a broader treatment plan to help relieve symptoms and improve someone’s overall quality of life.
So How Can ESAs Actually Make You Happier?
Down to the nitty gritty! Given that happiness is an individual thing, what makes you happier is going to come down to you. There may be one particular thing about sharing your life with an emotional support animal that contributes to your feelings of joy. However, chances are it is, or will be, a combination of many factors.
1. ESAs Love Unconditionally
The presence of an animal in your life is all about unconditional love and acceptance. A pet or emotional support animal isn’t preconditioned with any so-called societal norms about who you should be or how to fit in. Yes, they love you just the way you are! Most people consider their emotional support animals or pets as much a part of their family and immediate circle of friends other people.
2. ESAs Give You Purpose
Pets and animals are their own beings; they have their own personalities and unique traits. To a certain extent they are independent, but they need the commitment of your care. When you bring an animal into your life, you are responsible for the care of another living being. This can provide a rewarding sense of purpose and feeling of being needed in the world. Depending on the species, an emotional support animal needs you to feed, groom, and exercise them. These kinds of activities also help with achieving and accomplishing regular routines in your day.
3. ESAs Reduce Stress
Many research studies that animals have a positive effect on the physical indicators of stress in people, and vice versa. People’s blood pressure rates are lower just from the presence of a companion animal. Then there is the effect of the repetitive motions that you feel when you pat or groom an animal.
Animals positively help our brains in tangible ways too. From our positive interaction with companion animals, levels of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine go up. These hormones influence our moods. Cortisol, the hormone related to stress, goes down.
4. ESAs Encourage You to Move About
There’s a reason why health professionals encourage you to exercise and move about more. Physical body not only helps your body, but it also helps your mind. How much extra movement you get will depend on the type of your ESA. If you have a dog, they’re going to need a walk or a run regularly. Cats too can not only be played with, but they are also a living example to follow of how regular stretches and yoga poses help to stay supple and agile!
5. ESAs Help You Interact With Others
If you’ve got a pet or an ESA, you’ve already got some common ground with at least half of the population. The estimates of the number of households in the United States who have a pet ranges from around 50-70%. If you’re looking for small talk to start a conversation talk about the weather if you will. But your pets will bring more of a smile to your face, especially if you are out walking the dog.
How Do You Get an Emotional Support Animal?
Talk with your therapist or a health professional, or a reputable online service (I recommend this one) to help with the decision. They will go through with you whether or not an emotional support animal the right choice. An existing pet can be ‘upgraded’ to an emotional support animal. Especially if they help you manage your mental health, and you need them living with you or during air travel in the United States.
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