Max lives the simple life. He doesn’t have much stuff. In fact I can fit all the things that are uniquely his into a bag whenever I take him places. A bowl, some treats, a brush, and as of now, three toys, one of which was just given to him as a gift (but don’t tell him, I’m saving it for Christmas).
I hope the fact that he only has a handful of toys doesn’t cast me as a heartless, strict owner. I admit that a big reason I don’t give him lots of toys is because I don’t want them strewn about the apartment.
But also he has a tendency to destroy toys, for instance this shredded leg of what used to be an elephant, I think. (It has since completely disappeared)
Even though Max has very few toys, he is still quite content. And I think by virtue of not having much he is able to tap into the heart of contentment.
Max has taught me that that contentment is born out in several ways. First, his lack of stuff allows him to really focus on one thing when he wants to play. He loved that elephant before he destroyed it and he loves his tennis ball now. Max has taught me that more things does not necessarily make life more fun, but rather life is made fun when he truly enjoys whatever he has.
Secondly, Max has taught me that contentment is born out of meaningful relationships, not out of any amount of stuff. With so few things, he and I are forced to turn to each other for company and entertainment. Our joy comes from interaction with one another rather than each of our individual interactions with other things. Even the tennis ball is most often a tool for interacting with one another.
Now, it is clear that Max has taught me that I don’t need much stuff to be happy or to have a meaningful life. But I am careful to realize that he has not taught me that more stuff directly prevents these things. I would be condemning myself as much as anyone if I said that more stuff is inherently bad. Besides, the dogs I know who do have a bounty of toys are also very happy.
But Max’s lesson about being content with so few things remains important to me in this time of high consumerism. I am not opposed to giving lavish gifts, and I doubt Max is either, but Max teaches me everyday that joy and meaning can abound even if I have a simple tennis ball.
Max has two toys and a handful of other possessions, yet I have no doubt that he loves his life. As long as he has a loving relationship and the shelter to meet his needs, the joy Max experiences will continue to abound.
So thank you Max for teaching me to simply enjoy whatever I have. And thank you for teaching me that the joyfulness and meaningfulness of contentment come not from a relationship to stuff (however healthy it may be) but from relationships with the people around us.