A guide dog’s guide to happiness

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As the hundreds of CS 106A students trudged into class on Friday, there seemed to only be one topic on everyone’s minds: the looming midterm. My guide dog and I found our seat at the front of the classroom and listened to the chatter about exam preparations. How should I start studying? How many hours would it take to re-watch all of the lecture videos? Where could I find enough caffeine to fuel me through this endeavor?

Feeling overwhelmed, I decided to take a few moments to walk through Main Quad with my dog after lecture. I figured that a long walk would tire her out enough that she could sleep peacefully, even if I could not. As we walked, I knew I made the right choice. Libby’s tail began to wag relentlessly as we passed squirrels, rabbits and beautiful scenery, and I could tell she was fully content with not only her surroundings but her life at Stanford.

Many people tell me that my guide dog Liberty – Libby for short – is an inspiration. I think that for most, Libby inspires others by her devotion to keeping me safe, and without a doubt, the work she does each day is something to be celebrated. However, on that particular afternoon, I came to appreciate Libby for more than just her job – also for her outlook on life. I could not help but be in awe of her refusal to allow social and academic pressures to interfere with her contentment.

On any given day, my responsibility as Libby’s owner is to keep her happy. When I first trained with her, I worried about fulfilling this duty, but my concerns have proven futile over the year we have grown together. Libby finds happiness in simple pleasures like receiving her favorite bone, running after a ball, meeting new people or even laying next to me as I study. She loves to go on long walks, watch ducks in a pond and take a golf cart to class. I often joke that Libby’s tail is a weapon because it wags furiously regardless of time or place, but it is true that I have rarely seen her in a bad mood.

Earlier this month, our country celebrated National Mental Health Day, during which we promoted the importance of living a balanced life and practicing self-care. Since starting my freshman year, I have realized how easy it is to get caught up in the daily stresses of being a student. What do I want to major in? Do I belong here? What do I want to do for a career? How do I want to change the world? At times, these questions seem to consume our thoughts and actions, but I think we can all be inspired by Libby’s incredible example.

Of course, there will inevitably be pressures placed on us, either by others or by ourselves, but we should strive to find those activities and classes that make us truly happy. Often times we are working on complex and challenging issues, but the best solutions will come from a peaceful mind that is able to appreciate the small miracles that exist around us. If you are having a rough hour, day, week or even month, take a step back, reflect on the journey that has brought you here and realize that you live in an amazing place with amazing people. Nobody has the power to take away your happiness unless you let them.

 

Contact Trisha Kulkarni at trishak8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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