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Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.

My daughter brought my pup Tucker home to me as a surprise gift when he was a year old. She found him, at 6 months old, in Iowa, where she was going to college. He was walking on the streets, starving, alone, dirty, and scared. For some reason, she thought that I needed this puppy, just as much as he needed me. During the first 4 years of having Tucker live with me, we went through a love/hate relationship. He was untrusting, mean, and violent. He would bite me if I moved the wrong way. I have scars to prove it. In fact, I almost lost my finger 2 years ago. Countless dog trainers came and went. Nobody could get through to him. Suddenly after about 4 years, Tucker learned to trust me. And I learned to trust him. He is my best friend and sometimes I don’t know what I’d do without him.

Tucker and I spent late yesterday afternoon and this morning at the beach – still here. Walking barefoot on the beach. Gazing at the stars. Reminiscing. Thinking. Wondering.

I realized that a dog can teach us many things.

Firstly, Tucker has taught me that you cannot predict the specifics of your life. You just can’t. You can envision the future, but life often turns out to be not quite what we were planning. And this is a good thing.

So often we strive for control, certainty, predictability. We imagine how dull life would be, how much less wondrous, if we knew the specifics of our lives – the challenges as well as the joys – before they happened.

I never could have predicted that I’d fall in love with Tucker and that he’d become my best friend and teacher and healer.

Secondly, and one of the most important lessons Tucker has taught me, is to live in the moment. Tucker is a creature of the present, and that inspires me to be more mindful.

Whenever I am having one of those days, like yesterday and today, Tucker grounds me. He cries to be walked, and he stubbornly refuses to come in the house until he is ready. He is content sniffing a tree, chewing on a piece of grass, sitting in the sun – just enjoying life. He forces me to remember that there is no rush and that this moment is the only one that really matters.

Thirdly, Tucker has taught me about forgiveness. For him, it’s natural and automatic. No grudges. He has learned this while living with me. Today, he has a natural capacity for compassion. He is deeply affected by my pain. He hugs, he kisses, and he won’t let me out of his sight.

This taught me a valuable lesson. When someone is in pain and needs compassion, you do your best to put your ego aside and to be loving in the moment. This is a difficult lesson for most. And a lesson that many need to learn. Trust and compassion work hand-in-hand.

One of the greatest joys of having a dog, is that Tucker is always ecstatic to see me – when I wake up in the morning, when I come home, when I walk into the room. His tail goes crazy. He dances around me. He just wants to be loved. He wants to connect with me.

This inspires me to be just as excited about my day, and to be thrilled to be alive. Tucker reminds me to slow down and to be happy in the moment.

Tucker also reminds me that humans are meant to play, just as dogs are. It’s so easy to get stuck in the pattern of working all of the time – every free moment – but one trip to the beach or to the park with Tucker breaks that pattern.

As soon as he gets out of the car he bounds through the grass. All he wants to do is run and chase things – he is practically bursting. Nothing else matters. This inspires me to forget about my work and worries for the time being.

Tucker inspires me to be mindful and to live in the moment. He reminds me not to worry about tomorrow. He reminds me how important it is to be compassionate.

No matter what I’m feeling – busy, stressed, anxious, angry, sad – just putting my hands on Tucker’s fur, and listening to him breathe, is all it takes to feel better. Petting a dog can be one of the most mindful, peaceful, and spiritual moments you can have.

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