14 Life Lessons I learned From My Cat

Let me be clear, I am a bonafide cat person. The longest period I have ever gone without cohabiting with A cat is 10 months. This means that on a daily basis I spend a good chunk of time petting one to the point of generating enough static electricity to power a mid-sized town. I also observe them. A lot.

My current cats, Carlos & Maria, are liable to go bat shit crazy over anything ranging from a paperclip, to a torn piece of paper, to their own tails. The entertainment value can not be understated, it is immense. And thus I often find myself watching them for long unproductive stretches of time. However, like any great entertainer they also impart wisdom upon the 'open minded' observer (I'll let you decide at what point open mindedness collides with 'crazy' and 'delusional'). Arranged in no particular order, here are 14 life lessons I have learned from various cats over a period of 26+ years.

1) Don't Put Up With Bull Shit

If a cat dislikes a given situation they have absolutely zero problem with bounding away to the most distant room in the house, and retreating under a chair. They just don't give a s*** about how their sudden absence makes you feel. If something makes them feel uncomfortable they just get up and leave. Humans on the other hand are bound by social conventions, specifically a deeply ingrained desire to not appear rude or unkind to others. Often this serves us very well. Situations and problems should not be avoided just because they are unpleasant. At the same time, sticking around just to placate someone or not hurt their feelings is normally a bad idea if you feel that your time is honestly being wasted or if you feel like you could be harmed emotionally or psychically. So you should deal with difficult problems and situations if they are important to your long term well being, and you should GTFO if you are in fact dealing with bull shit.

2) Don't Be Afraid To Let Someone Know You Like Them

There is nary a person who has not had the experience of going to a friend's house in which a cat lives and, over the course of several hours, ends up with said cat curled up on their lap purring like a 1960s Chevy halftone. This will probably not happen with every cat you meet, (and certainly not on every occasion) but when a cat likes, enjoys, or appreciates you, they are crystal clear about letting you know. People don't often do this. We hide behind our ego and frequently try to avoid expressing how we truly feel towards someone. Everyone has been burned by non-reciprocated feelings of affection and love, the accumulation of which suppresses our ability to feel and express. My belief is that people need to be a little more brave, and like an affectionate cat, purr (in both a literal and non-literal sense) when you like someone.

3) Don’t Be Afraid Of Mice

There is almost no animal or creature that frightens me. I used to own a poisonous tarantula as a pet, and I would stroke its back for fun. When I was 5 my dog bit my hand, splitting the web of skin between my pointer and middle finger, and I still love dogs - even ones that are a bit crazy. And because i'm from British Columbia I have seen numerous mother bears with cubs, always without being very concerned. But for whatever reason, mice give me the ebejeebies. Not so for my cats. They go into full on hunter mode. If Carlos has a mouse in his mouth, and Maria signals that she wants in on the action, Carlos will full on growl like a dog. It's amazing. If I see one in the same room I will stand on a piece of furniture, or I will run for my pellet gun (no, I have never actually shot a mouse, and yes I have caused household damage). The weird thing is that many people have this same illogical, irrational, perplexing, and frankly stupid fear. Intellectually I know that I have nothing to fear, but physiologically I lose control. I know all it will take is a little courage, and perhaps a paradigm shift, but an absence of fear in the face of mice is technically possible. Until then I have two enthusiastic and fierce predators who are able to do the dirty deed when I can't.

4) Make Eye Contact

Cats have an incredible ability to find and maintain eye contact. If I am in the same room as Carlos and our eyes meet he never shies away. There is always zero awkwardness, and I always feel that he is extremely tuned in to me (especially when hungry). The unfortunate thing is that people often feel uncomfortable making eye contact with one another, especially for long periods of time. In the worst cases it can make you feel striped bare, as if your personal space has been completely violated. However, if done in the right way with the right person eye contact can be something that enables deep connection. The good news is that this is something which can be practiced with humans and improved upon in your everyday life. Who doesn't want deeper connections with people you care about? Try it out, see if you can hold eye contact for one second longer with the people you are already close to, and then try it with lesser known acquaintances, and then with strangers. And if it's too nerve racking, just pretend your looking at a cat.

5) Sleep When You're Tired

If there is one thing cats cannot be accused of it is sleeping too little. When Maria gets tired she finds the nearest soft and unoccupied surface, does a half turn, curls into a ball, and falls asleep. Total time taken from impulse to full on sleep is usually under a minute. I admire her for this. When I feel tired I will either push myself to continue working, look at my Instagram feed, see whats on Netflix, or otherwise tell my body to shut up about being tired. I delay the inevitable as much as possible. Not so with cats. They consistently get enough sleep to make Snow White jealous. While it is true that cats have hour upon endless hour to pursue this passion of theirs, the point is that they allow themselves to feel tired, and then they act upon it. If people respected sleep and listened to their bodies as much as cats do, I think we would all be much happier and more productive humans. This doesn't mean you have to sleep half the day, it just means that you should probably go to bed a little earlier, and reduce or eliminate screen time in the hour leading up to bed.

6) Be Curious

Curiosity has very nearly killed several of my cats over the years. From finding their way into a furnace vent, to jumping in the washing machine, to eating string, and getting in fights with bees. If something captures their attention they become compelled to investigate it. From cardboard boxes to oak trees, they are boundless explorers. While it can depend on the personality of the cat, most of the ones I have known are not passive creatures. We can learn from this. Over time the lustre of our environment diminishes, the novelty factor quickly wears away, and the predictable world around us becomes boring. However with a little inspiration from our feline friends it is possible to train oneself to see the world anew. Actively search for things that excite you, look for the details and intricacies in things that are already familiar to you, and never stop exploring your own backyard. While you may not succumb to convulsions of joy the next time you see a cardboard box, it is your job to be curious and seek out what excites you. 

7) Find Joy In The Simple Things

Unlike people, cats do not desire consumer items like cars, TVs, or giant gummy bears. They are able to enjoy pretty much anything, including a hand moving under a blanket, their own tail, and buzzing insects. Clearly the barrier to success in finding something with which to entertain a cat is fairly low. Just like being curious, you are unlikely to go bananas over a dying insect, but there are probably simple pleasures in your life that don't require adding anything to your credit card statement. For a lot of people playing some kind of sport, or just being with friends ticks this box. Go find your dying bug.

8) Take Grooming Seriously, But Don't Be Turned Off By Dirt

Cats love to clean themselves at regular intervals throughout the day. While they are very conscious about maintaining cleanliness, they are also completely okay with rolling over on the ground and picking up all sorts of dust and debris in their fur. On one occasion when I was transporting my cats in a cage during a trip to the vet, Carlos puked his entire breakfast all over Maria. While she was eager to get out of the cage, the half digested Iams which covered her once white coat didn't appear to bother her. Without making a face of disgust or squeals of discomfort she got right down to the business of cleaning herself. The lesson here is to place a high value on grooming and cleanliness without allowing dirt, grime, and puke to ruin your day.

9) Stretch

Yoga is the human equivalent of what cats do naturally. While cats may not hold their poses in a dramatic fashion or deliberately move through a set of positions, they are extremely adept at loosening up their body and maintaining flexibility. Every nap is followed by a stretch that causes the whole body to tremble, from the middle of their spine down to the pads of their paws. Pools of light on the floor call for limbs to be completely outstretched in every direction so as to absorb the maximum amount of heat. These extremely dexterous animals have a knack for physical manipulation. For humans, stretching can require a substantial degree of motivation and planning. This need not always be the case. I can attest that a series of one off stretches throughout the day can reinvigorate the mind, and even give you something to smile about. The key is be like a cat and not think about it too much, just start small and incorporate the occasional stretch into your daily routine. Need inspiration? Check out this cat stretch for humans.

10) Live In The Moment

In a world where there is no past to dwell on, and no future to worry about, cats are forced to fully absorb every moment. They are fully engaged with whatever they happen to be doing, whether that be trying to fall asleep, or waking up their human servant. This is not to say that they don't become distracted or rapidly switch their focus (try opening a can of soft food when one is sleeping and see what happens), it just means that they are only engaged with what they are doing in the moment, and not with what could happen in 5 minutes or 5 years. I believe that humans would be much more content if they had even 20% more singularity of focus on the present moment. Our ability to learn from the past and plan for the future is truly astonishing and one our greatest assets as. Unfortunately the mind has an ability, and a tendency, to dwell over the past, and endlessly explore realities unknown. Living in the moment is probably the most difficult lesson in this list, and likely the most important.

11) Be Excited About Food And Eating

It's no secret that cats love to eat. It is unsurprising that the most famous cat in western culture is Garfield, a horribly obese food crazed tabby. Cats are unapologetic about their desire for food. They will paw at counters, meow loudly, and mercilessly wake you up from a deep slumber just to be fed. Once fed they attack their food until completely satiated. Sadly, humans often lack this enthusiasm. Eating can feel like a chore at times, and many people have concerns about weight, a worry which gnaws at the simple joy found in eating a delicious meal. The simple fact is that looking for food, cooking, and eating consumes a significant portion of the day, so to not enjoy it on a consistent basis is just plain sad. This point is tightly connected with living in the moment. Food is almost always more enjoyable when you focus on the tastes, textures, and aroma vs. thinking about all the things you need to do as soon as you finish eating. Again, easier said than done, but hugely rewarding.

12) Don’t Judge Yourself

Self examination is an important characteristic that all humans innately possess. We are able to reflect on our own behaviour in a situation, learn from what we did both well and poorly, and use that to better our relationships and ourselves for the future. The problem is that humans are often overly critical of themselves, and are much quicker to find our own faults than our metaphorical fruits. It is a shitty personality trait that far too many humans possess. Cats don't have this problem. Once again, they are masters at living in the moment, and because of this they don't concern themselves with self reflection. While some self reflection on the part of cats would be nice for their human companions, especially when reflecting on how the human feels when the cat drinks from and places its paw in the human's water glass. I am fairly convinced that personal happiness is only possible when you don't think that you are the incarnation of a looser-idiot-asshole. If you can think of yourself as a respectable individual on a regular basis, then you're probably doing better than most of your human brethren.

13) Be Silly

To be a cat is to not really care what other people or animals think of you. For instance, my cat Maria has not qualms about rolling down a flight of stairs as she tries to catch her own tail. While totally ridiculous, her enthusiasm is utterly infectious (smiles abound as Maria rolls down). As a human being silly can often be perceived as childish, unprofessional, and unnecessary. And it is true that many activities call for a certain seriousness of purpose, you don't want the dentist to fill your teeth with toffee as a joke. The problem is that life presents an order of magnitude more opportunities for being serious than letting lose, an unfortunate phenomenon indeed. Being silly can give new vigour to the spirit, and release enough endorphins to give you a potent natural high. While Maria's tail is sufficient to make her go bananas, playing with her brother really pushes her over the edge of sanity. Picture two teddy bears on LSD. Like Maria and Carlos, you needn't take hallucinogenics to achieve a similar result, you may just need another one of your species with whom you can dive into this playful, unpolished version of yourself.

14) Be Confident

Cats are inherently confident creatures. Although Carlos & Maria are a completely different species, weigh 1/20th as much as me, and look like animate teddy bears, there is no question that I exist to serve them. They are the supreme rulers over the domain they inhabit. My stature, opposable thumbs, and supposedly superior intellect does nothing to make them feel like they are lesser than me. They walk around with their tails held high, will literally take a running jump and land on me at 3am if they are hungry, demand to be petted whenever it suits them, and sprawl over furniture as if it was them whom fashioned the piece with their bare paws. Unless they are confronted with bull shit (see #1), they completely own the space they are in. For an animal the size of a cat, this is the definition of confidence. The human counterparts can learn a lot from their feline overlords. If you think about it, every lesson on this list is a case study of confidence. While I may come across as a somewhat farcical cat dude who thinks way to much about the feline disposition, I truly believe that these lessons when extrapolated to the human context can provide some guidance on how to live a better life.

A final note. To truly learn from the great felines you need a cat of your own! There are so many cool cats that need a home. Go and visit your local animal shelter. If you are already in a committed relationship with a cat I would love to know what you have learned! Just leave a comment below.

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Want more life lessons? Read 4 Life Lessons From Valentino Rossi