Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Introducing Happiness Unleashed With Brittany Derrenbacher
[00:00:08] PF: Welcome to the very first episode of Happiness Unleashed with Brittany Derrenbacher, presented by Live Happy. Each episode, we’re going to look at how our pets bring us joy, help us heal, and just make us better humans. To kick things off, Brittany is talking with me, Live Happy Now host, Paula Felps, about what to expect from this new podcast, why we’re doing it, and why it’s so important for us to get in touch with our animals.
Then we’ll talk about why petting other people’s pets is scientifically proven to be good for you and why you should stop phubbing your pets.
[00:00:41] BD: Hi, Paula. Thank you so much for coming on the very first episode of Happiness Unleashed.
[00:00:46] PF: I am so excited. First of all, I’m honored that I get to be your very first guest, and I am just so excited to see this finally coming to fruition. Congratulations on making this happen. I’m really happy for you.
[00:00:58] BD: Thank you so much. I can’t think of a better person to kick off the show with.
[00:01:02] PF: I know I live happy wanting to do this. Why don’t you tell us like how this all came about, and why it’s so important for us to do this podcast that’s devoted to pets and happiness?
[00:01:13] BD: Well, first, what I love is that, really, animals brought us together. So just in us having conversations on Live Happy, I think everyone was kind of able to see just how much people wanted to hear about our relationships with animals, how much people really tuned in for that. So it kind of validated just how much we wanted to talk about animals and bring that to public knowledge.
I really think that we are doing ourselves a disservice and future generations a disservice if we don’t include the human-animal bond in our research. Research on animals’ interactions with us is still relatively new. As that research really evolves, so does the role that animals play in our lives. So I think it’s incredibly important that we continue to support this and understand just how happy animals can make us and what we can learn from that.
[00:02:06] PF: You’re very right because I even think about how I grew up and the role the animals had then and how different it is now. We couldn’t do the things for our pets that we’re able to do now. Last weekend, I was doing some spay-neuter volunteer work. The woman was helping me get these cats into my truck. I opened the back, and she saw I have dog beds with – they’re very nice little dog beds in the back seat. She said, “Animals at your house have it really rough, don’t they?”
It’s true. We are able to make them true members of our family. I’m able to take my dogs with me on trips and on little errand runs and things like that. We get so much out of it. They get so much out of it. I love that we have changed how we view animals. I love that the research is giving us more validation and showing us more ways to do that.
[00:02:57] BD: Yes. I love how much it’s evolved from this understanding that animals or outdoor animals, they were kind of in the background. Now, they are people’s children. They have more rights in the home than sometimes the humans do.
[00:03:13] PF: Especially when it comes to that bed space. It’s like –
[00:03:15] BD: Right.
[00:03:17] PF: “I’ll be taking that. Thanks.” I know that you are so well-researched on this, which, obviously, that’s why you’re hosting this podcast. You want to share some of the things that they do for us emotionally and physically as well.
[00:03:31] BD: Our relationships and understanding of animals can be a powerful tool to increase a lot of things in our life, so joy and happiness, first of all, health, longevity, emotional and social skills. Then also, interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol. That’s the stress-related hormone in our bodies. Then it also lowers blood pressure. So I find that so fascinating that animals have this ability to uniquely shift that in us in our bodies, in our mental health. So this mental, physical, emotional support that they give us.
Other studies have also found that animals can reduce loneliness and increase feelings of social support and boost our mood. That’s just to name a few. That is so profound to me and almost magical that these animals can do that for us, and we don’t talk about it enough.
[00:04:24] PF: Right. Do we know the why of it? We’re seeing the action and the what. But why is that? Like why is it that the act of petting my dog can absolutely lower my blood pressure, can decrease my anxiety? What is it that’s happening that makes that?
[00:04:40] BD: Yes. This is stuff that we’re really going to be diving into in this season is exploring from a very unique lens and heart-centered lens how we can understand animals benefiting us from those perspectives in our life, so that mind-body-spirit approach.
[00:04:57] PF: So those are some of the things. Like you said, those are some of the things that you’re going to talk about. I know that you’ve already been lining guests up. You’ve got some great things in store. Do you want to talk about some of the things that we can learn and what we can expect from the next several episodes?
[00:05:12] BD: I think listeners are really going to be in for a treat, the topics and the guests that we’re kind of brainstorming for the season. Uniquely, I think that animals, not only are they a part of our house and our families and our hearts, but they are out in communities healing people. They’re out doing a lot of really unseen work and behind-the-scenes work that is bringing a lot of joy and healing to people. I think that needs to be illuminated. So that’s really the goal of this podcast is to have those conversations and really take a dive into how animals can bring so much to our lives.
[00:05:52] PF: Yes. Because once we realize that, I think we give them a lot more space, and we give them a lot more credit maybe than we have in the past because I think we all know like, “My dog makes me feel good. My cat makes me feel good.” But we don’t realize just how far-reaching that is.
[00:06:07] BD: Right, and understanding that animals are our teachers. Animals prompt us to experience the world more like they do. They bring us happiness. They bring us comfort. They bring us love, wonder, and awe, living in the moment, purpose, and like I said before, healing, which is huge. I think that animals heal us on a mind-body-soul level. When that happens, I think they begin to heal us on a cellular level. What I mean by that is studies show that interacting with animals reduces cortisol, like I mentioned before. But also, it’s increasing dopamine and serotonin. So that’s on the chemical level, which improves our mood.
[00:06:48] PF: Yes. Explain to us what dopamine and serotonin do for us.
[00:06:52] BD: That’s the happy feel good. That’s the opposite of the stress hormones. That’s what puts a smile on our face and an ease in our bodies. So understanding that we can get that support on a chemical level, but also realizing that animals and playing with animals and interacting with animals can be an intellectual and an inner child experience for us all.
[00:07:14] PF: You bring up such a good point because as adults, we forget to play. We’ve done episodes on play before, and I’m guilty of that myself. It’s like I love to play probably more than the next person. But I get caught up in work, and I forget to play. Newsweek just had a huge cover story on this about how dangerous it is for us not to play. What I love about animals is they kind of force you to do that. Whether you want to or not, they are ready to play. That is so healthy for us. That is doing so much more for us than we even realize.
[00:07:47] BD: Yes. Play is healing. Play is used a lot in trauma work, reconnecting with that joy center and those hope receptors. Animals can be that safe and supportive space to then navigate that trauma, even using play. This can physically help us but also mentally help us.
[00:08:06] PF: Because you have a healing center in Louisville. Do you use animals in that center?
[00:08:11] BD: Yes, yes. Several of the therapists have a support animal, and I also bring in animals. I also encourage my clients if they have emotional support animals and therapy dogs to bring them in with them because they will always aid and speed up the process if they’re involved.
[00:08:28] PF: Oh, that’s amazing. That’s amazing. I’m so excited to see how this season unfolds. What do you want to talk about today because we can’t tell them everything that you’re going to do? We’ll ruin all the surprises. I think you said you had something you wanted to talk about today.
[00:08:42] BD: Yes. There’s actually a new study that came out, and I think it fits perfectly into our conversation today. Last month, we celebrated International Dog Day, and it just so happens that this study was published around this time. What the study shows is that petting other people’s dog is good for your health, even –
[00:09:01] PF: I saw that. That was a great story, actually. Actually, just reading it made me smile. But, yes, I love that. Tell us about what they found out.
[00:09:09] BD: I feel like it’s so powerful. Who else does that? Who else does that? Just briefly any interaction with someone.
[00:09:17] PF: In positive psychology, we talk about micro moments. Barbara Frederickson, that was a big area of study for her and how even just short exchanges with people can lift our mood and help us feel happier. But we had never applied that to pets, to animals. So to think about the fact that when I’m reaching down and I’m petting somebody’s pooch as they’re walking. If we’re walking in the neighborhood, there I am. I say hello to the dog and pet it. It’s like it has done something for me that we don’t even think about how much good that can do.
[00:09:48] BD: I think the reason that this study seemed like something that really would fit into what we were talking about is because we’re talking about how animals can do all this behind-the-scenes work that we’re not even aware of. This is a perfect example that just a quick exchange on a walk, getting the okay to pet someone else’s dog because PSA, everyone. We should ask.
[00:10:11] PF: Always ask first.
[00:10:12] BD: Always ask consent to pet someone’s dog because not everybody likes to be pet. Not every dog likes to have that engagement. But stopping someone and asking if you can pet their dog and having that interaction. Maybe stopping by a friend or family member’s house and getting greeted by the dog or even being at an event or a gathering where dogs are allowed. This is the interaction that the study’s talking about is that 5 to 20-minute period that can make you more relaxed and happier in that space.
[00:10:39] PF: They said that it aids in releasing oxytocin, which is that love hormone, which think about that. If you go out, and you’re in a grumpy mood, and you get to run into a pet, and it releases that love hormone, I mean, it might change the way that you’re dealing with the next person you encounter.
[00:10:54] BD: Yes. It’s that cellular chemical change that I was talking about. That evidence shows that it will lower cortisol, the stress hormone, and it will increase all the feel good stuff. So we see that increase in oxytocin, which is the feel-good bonding hormone, really. So you have that bonding moment happening. What’s awesome is that the dog we’re petting also gets that exchange, so it’s reciprocal.
[00:11:18] PF: Yes. Everybody benefits from it. You’ve done so much work with people and with animals. I think that you’ve had experience of seeing how animals have done exactly what we’re talking about, which is sharing joy by just letting people be with them.
[00:11:35] BD: Yes. I love sharing stories of animals doing incredible work in very unassuming ways. I think through thousands of years of domestication, dogs have really developed a wondrous ability to read us as humans. They can connect to human beings from the heart without words, which I think is so beautiful.
A friend of mine, [inaudible 00:11:57], she does really beautiful community work here. She creates a space called [inaudible 00:12:02], where people can gather and heal through music, poetry, food, group connection. She also does a lot of work with small groups. But really, and this is no shade to [inaudible 00:12:12], I share the story with you because of her dog. She has an emotional support dog named Arlo, who wanders around greeting and spending time with everyone. He is this beautiful, gentle, scruffy, majestic, golden healer. I love that.
[00:12:30] PF: I love the fact that he’s a healer.
[00:12:32] BD: He’s a golden healer. He’s so loved and cherished by everyone. He means so much, and he seems to know exactly who needs a kiss, who needs a quick touch, or who might need a good cuddle session, even acting as a weighted blanket for some people who need some extra soothing and processing time.
So it’s really amazing to watch him just live his best life while enriching and healing the lives of others as he does it. I think every person in the room who interacts with him are experiencing all the benefits that we just talked about. I think Arlo is really a perfect example of a dog who can just heal others by being himself. I think this is a gift that dogs possess that we can all learn a lot from.
[00:13:18] PF: That is so amazing. There was also something in the story where it talked about how it aids children. Like children that were able to interact with animals had better cognitive function after that. That kind of blew me away because, yes, the well-being make you happy. That’s very clear, and that’s easy to understand. But my gosh, the fact that it can also change the way that your brain is functioning, do you have any insight into why that is because they didn’t really talk – they just said it did that. They didn’t say why.
[00:13:47] BD: What I think they were getting at in the study is that dogs induce a very calming effect. So it’s like a chill pill for kids and not just kids but for adults, giving our nervous systems permission to relax and really come back online, which can then bring you cognitively back online. So I kind of just look at that moment as like this chill pill moment for kids, right?
[00:14:07] PF: I love that. So what we’re saying here is that every parent whose child is running crazy should go get a pet. Is that what?
[00:14:16] BD: Parents are going to love us for saying that.
[00:14:18] PF: Yes. I had a situation, as I mentioned. I mentioned the kitties, the little spay-neuter thing I had going on. We’d get got some strays. We were trying to adopt them out. I had a single mom come out and meet one of the kitties and was like, “I really think this will be good for my little girl.”
Oh, my gosh. It was like instant love, these two. The look on this little girl’s face, I’m still in love with just that look that they had. She and this little stray cat bonded almost immediately. The mom has for this past week been sending me photos of the two of them together, and it’s just so touching. She said like she has never seen her daughter that enamored and that happy. It’s like I just think about what that’s doing, this relationship that it’s creating, and this joy that it’s bringing to her life and how that’s got to be affecting her in other areas of her daily being.
[00:15:09] BD: Yes. It’s also teaching that child the kind of simple pause, the taking a moment and really just being in that moment. Animals always uniquely teach us that if we’re open to it.
[00:15:21] PF: Yes. Animals are really good for mindfulness. You know what? That is another thing that you and I had talked about at one point because there was a study about phubbing your pets. Then if anyone doesn’t know, phubbing is phone snubbing. Our animals can tell. They actually get hurt when we are ignoring them and looking at our phones. So if we can use our walks or our play time with those animals and to really be in the moment, to really be noticing what’s going on around us and really put the phone away, it makes a big difference for both of us.
[00:15:58] BD: Right. I think we can apply this phrase that the Gottman Institute uses about relationships. It’s called bid for affection. I think we can use that in regards to animals too because that is their bid for affection. That’s their bid for, “Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad. Love me. See me. Spend this time with me.” When we actively avoid that snub, whatever you want to call it, phub, that is received in the same way in animals as it is with humans, which is, “Oh, I’m not being paid attention to. That doesn’t feel good.”
[00:16:32] PF: Yes. When I was still in Nashville, I’d see this a lot where someone’s walking their dog. They’re looking at their phone. The dog wants to stop and sniff and enjoy the moment. They just are kind of pulling him along like, “Got to go.” They’re not even looking up. I was always like, “Man, that’s such a lost moment because you don’t know when you’re going to have your last walk with that animal.” Nothing’s guaranteed, and that’s such a precious time that you can spend with your animal. It’s so good for you to put your phone down and not be looking at that. Even if it wasn’t good for the animal for you to be giving him that undivided attention, it’s good for you to get away from that.
[00:17:07] BD: Yes. Again, animals are our teachers. If we are open to receiving those messages and being present for them, we can learn so much.
[00:17:14] PF: I love that. This is going to be a fun journey. I’m really excited to see where this goes, what some of the things are that we learn and the guests that you bring on because I know you have a lot to teach us. The animals have a lot to teach us, and you have a lot of great people that you’re tapping into who can tell us how we can access that.
[00:17:31] BD: I can’t wait. This season’s going to be incredible, and I can’t wait for everyone to just learn right along with me.
[00:17:40] PF: That was our very first episode of Happiness Unleashed with Brittany Derrenbacher. Brittany will be back here next month to talk about how pets bring us joy, help us heal, and can be some of our best teachers. Until then, for everyone at Live Happy, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.