For Charlie Brown, Valentines was a stressful time. His mailbox would remain empty without any Valentine cards. The pain of his loneliness and rejection would drive him to Lucy, his trusted psychiatrist, who, for 5 cents, would provide the necessary therapy.
Charlie Brown isn’t the only one in our world who deals with loneliness and rejection. Just recently I read of a farm in upstate New York that offers visitors a “Horse and Cow experience.” The “experience” consists of spending quality time petting, brushing, and even cuddling the animals.
Charlie Brown got a great deal. The animal experience cost $300 for 90 minutes. But, we are told, the potential benefits are wonderful. The horses and cows at Mountain Horse Farms can, and I quote, “feel your happiness, sadness or anxiety . . . these animals will respond to you without any judgment. The results will be relaxation, healing , awareness, comfort, mindfulness, improved assertiveness and confidence.”
There you have it, Charlie Brown, for $300 you won’t have to put up with Lucy’s homespun psychology. You can get help right from the “horses’ mouth.”
Mountain Horse Farms is just part of a growing trend where people are looking to animals to fill the loneliness vacuum of their lives. In fact, United Airlines recently announced it is limiting “emotional support” animals to dogs and cats. That policy change came in response to complaints from passengers and crew members about all of the “emotional support” pigs, turkeys, ducks, and even a peacock or two biting people and soiling the cabin.
Do animals have a role in dealing with past trauma? Yes they do. On one of my trips into Germany I was asked to see a young lady who had been through significant emotional, physical and sexual trauma. The rebuilding of trust began at an equestrian center.
The former U S Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy observed that we are in the midst of a “loneliness epidemic,” which is causing a “reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact on life span of obesity.”
In spite of all our social media platforms, we are lacking meaningful personal connections with other people. The cure for loneliness isn’t company, it is meaningful connection.
Unfortunately, we are part of a culture that is obsessed with individualism and personal autonomy. Back in 1979, a sociologist, Robert Bellah, set out to study the “habits of the heart” that defined the lives of the average American. After interviewing several hundred people he saw some emerging patterns. Most of them had no sense of community or social obligation. They saw the world as a fragmented place of choice and freedom. He called this “ontological individualism.” He divides “ontological individualism” into two categories: expressive individualists and utilitarian individualists. The expressive individualists luxuriate in vivid personal feelings and rich life experiences while the utilitarian individualists seek meaning in the calculated pursuit of material interests. The two groups have one thing in common: LIFE IS ABOUT ME!
We live in a society where far too many are alienated, anxious, despairing, and lost. The real solution is not to pay $300 to cuddle an animal. We need to re-engage with people.
A doctor referred a woman to me with the diagnosis of clinical depression. After two sessions I said to the woman, “I have a new prescription for you. I want you to select three seniors’ homes and visit each one once a week. Learn all you can about the family, interests and life work of two people from each home. Do this for three weeks and then make another appointment.” The lady “balked” at her prescription but finally agreed to “give it a try.” When she returned in three weeks she walked into my office with a smile. She said, “Thank you, you helped me get out of myself.”
Well, Charlie Brown, maybe you need to stop looking for Valentines in your mailbox and start depositing messages of encouragement, hope and appreciation in the mailboxes of others. May I encourage you to think of three people that could use a word of encouragement, an expression of appreciation or an acknowledgement of work well done. Take the time to send them a note and help brighten their day.
Happy Valentines to each of you!