Happiness and Productivity: You need to treat yourself like a dog

Happiness and productivity go hand in hand.

There’s a store in my neighborhood that I walk by regularly called “Doggy Style.” It sells organic, raw, and freeze-dried pet food, and features a wall full of toys. There’s a dog-sized Halloween costume—of a dinosaur—in the window.

The bakery I like to shop at has dog treats in the vitrine alongside people treats.

I’ve had students in the Creative Focus Workshop planning dog-centered podcasts, writing “dog parenting” books, and who post more pictures of their dogs than themselves.

I have friends who’ve skipped parties and dinners and trips to care for their tender rescue dogs.

Friends, if this is a dog’s life, I want in.

In the last 20 years or so, it seems we’ve come to a cultural consensus: dogs are to be cherished.

So when you train your dog, what do you do?

Do you whack it with a rolled up newspaper?

Do you lock it in a cage and ignore it?

Do you scream at it and tell it what a terrible, worthless, hopelessly screwed up dog it is?

We may not have known this 50 years ago, but we know now that the best method of training dogs (and raising children, by the way) is by using kindness, love, and patience, combined with firm limits scaled to their ability to achieve success.

And it’s not just that this approach makes the dogs, children, and parents happier, it’s that it works.

Happiness and productivity go hand in hand.

happiness and productivity

When you’re kind and firm, and you reinforce positive behavior instead of punishing negative behavior, your dog (or kid!) learns faster and uses internal motivation to behave as you want them to.

(Yes, of course there are dog-parents and people-parents who don’t get this concept, and who treat their loved ones like dirt. I’m not talking about, or to, those people.)

So, if we all agree that punishment and cruelty don’t work on others…

…Why is punishment and cruelty your go-to when it comes to trying to change your own less-than optimal behaviors?

If you wouldn’t beat up your labradoodle, why will you willingly beat yourself up?

Why do you deserve less kindness than your dog?

When you blow a self-imposed deadline…

…or feel too overwhelmed to face your creative work and instead zone out with Netflix,

…or find you can’t actually function well on 5 hours of sleep a night (wow, really??)

…or it turns out you can’t actually pick up your kid at the school bus, be at an important meeting, and work on your novel simultaneously (what, no personal worm-hole generator?)

…what’s your reaction?

Do you step back and look at how you might put together a more reasonable calendar for tomorrow that acknowledges the limitations of your human body, attention, and the time-space continuum?

Or do you instead launch into a silent litany of abuse at your lame, weak, procrastinating, undeserving, probably-not-cut-out-for-this-creative-life self?

And please, please PLEASE. This article is not an excuse to beat yourself up for beating yourself up!

Simply observe.

When you’re tempted to start in on yourself, watch what’s happening.

Try to imagine you’re watching one friend light into another for some promise unkept. What would you do?

Would you intervene and tell the abuser to knock it off?

How would you show empathy for the person who “messed up” and feels horrible about it? How would you tell them that you love them, and that you know they can do it, and that you can help them do better?

How would you help them actually do better?

Let me suggest that you consider setting new goalposts that are scaled to engineer success instead of failure.

Remember: We’re kind to dogs and children not only because making them happy makes us happy…but because it WORKS. It’s proven that increased happiness allows for greater productivity, and lower levels of happiness diminish it.

Self-forgiveness is a powerful productivity tool.

Meet Jessica Abel

Meet Jessica Abel

Author. Cartoonist. Teacher. Coach.

I help people whose imagination and creativity are the ultimate source of everything they do in their professional life stop grinding and start carving out the deep focus needed to finish—and launch—the game-changing work they want to be known for.  Discover my Courses, Join the FREE Creative Engine Workshop or find out more about me.


  1. Teddy on October 30, 2018 at 12:52 am

    I’m posting this article in my online discussion group for people who grew up in the same religious cult. The messages we got growing up were developmentally self-destructive wrapped in woo woo as you can imagine, so your simple analogies of what actually works here are refreshing.

  2. Jessica Abel on October 30, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    Hey Teddy, so glad this is helpful to you! I’m as woo-free as possible, at all times. I don’t think we need it!

  3. Nadia on May 4, 2019 at 11:47 pm

    I love this article. I am my own boss and sometimes my boss can be a real jerk! I’m also a pet-owner and I definitely treat my dog better at times. Great reminder about the need for self-compassion in order to move important creative projects forward.

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