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Perspective | My puppy is missing. Resilience training helped me find her.

Remark

On a recent Sunday, our 7-month-old puppy Lola had suddenly disappeared from the backyard.

It was late afternoon with only a few hours of daylight left when we set out to find her. Rural life in Solebury, Pa., meant we had to search on foot, climb horse fences, swing around deer barriers, and navigate large clumps of trees. My husband and I split up to look, but when it got dark our puppy was still missing.

Then the rain came. Lots and lots of rain. We ventured out with flashlights, but returned home wet and empty handed. I thought about our puppy – a rescue – shivering from the cold, but stopped myself. Those thoughts wouldn’t help me make constructive choices and they could lead to a negativity spiral that would keep me up all night. My resilience training began and I knew that my ability to find her relied on mastering my thought patterns. Looking back, three resilience techniques guided me that night and throughout our quest.

I couldn’t find my dog ​​in the dark. And while it was tempting to worry and worry, we all needed to be alert and well rested in the morning. So I accepted my physical limitations for now. In this calm state, my mind was more creative. When we searched online for advice on how to find a lost dog, we discovered a wealth of helpful checklists and suggestions. A little while later, we were designing a lost dog poster and planning to distribute flyers in mailboxes the next day. We posted missing dog reports online, activated her microchip recovery system, and compiled a call list.

There are times when thinking far into the future helps us prepare for change. Moments of crisis are not one of those moments. Under stress, the mind can ruminate and catastrophize. By focusing on the present moment, my family and I channeled our energy into making a plan for the next morning. And once this plan was in place, we could fall asleep.

Take in positive emotions

The next morning, I put on my high boots and went back on foot to search while my husband contacted shelters and vets, and my son put flyers in neighbor’s mailboxes. I searched through apple orchards, across open fields, and into the neighbors’ huge rural backyards. During hours of walking and calling my dog, the beauty around me did me good. It was a sunny early autumn day and the lush farmland was beautiful.

At first it felt like a betrayal to appreciate beauty while my dog ​​was lost, but then I remembered that positive emotions increase attention and help us think more creatively about a challenge. Being thankful for the splendor around me didn’t negate my bigger problem. Instead, gratitude reminded me of benevolent forces in the world, protecting me from despair.

Towards the end of the afternoon, people started calling me after seeing my phone number on the flyers. A woman called while I was sitting in the middle of an orchard to ask if we had found our dog. She had previously spoken to my husband and wanted an update. Another woman called with a tip: her neighbor’s dog had run away and was found near the stream two days later. Dogs will go to a water source, she said. Try walking along the stream, she advised. When I hung up the phone, I said to myself: This is kindness.

When dogs go missing, this army of thousands is on the case

Acknowledging and receiving kindness is a lesser known practice of resilience. Consciously receiving kindness from others creates a sense of belonging that is at the heart of the human experience and fundamental to well-being. Acts of kindness make us feel like we matter, which is especially valuable when we feel alone with our worries.

During that long walking day I became aware of my impatience. I had put all my energy into an urgent answer. As the sun moved across the sky, I realized it was time to brace myself for a longer process.

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If we expect things to go easy, we can get disappointed, which undermines resilience. But research on defensive pessimism shows that preparing for difficulties can lead to actions that help us maintain our well-being during challenges. Defensive pessimism is a way of lowering our expectations to prolong motivation. Unlike worry, where intrusive thoughts drain energy and fuel anxiety, defensive pessimism prevents anxiety from becoming debilitating.

By lowering my expectations of finding her before sundown, I was able to face the difficult days ahead with greater hope. I could visualize my husband, son and I developing a daily search routine that was integrated into our work schedules. We would adjust our lives as we continue to search and contact animal shelters. It was comforting to realize that we can handle another night without our dog.

This farm offers turkey cuddling. No really.

And then my phone rang again. It was about 5 p.m. and dusk was falling. This time the caller was a man and his voice sounded cheerful. “Are you Kelly?” he asked. When I confirmed it was me, he said, “I have your dog. My daughter found her in the shed. Come on over and get her.”

Driving to his house, I wasn’t sure if I should trust this sudden burst of good news. As I pulled into his driveway, I saw him smiling and proud, along with his daughter and my dog. He was happy and complimentary. “When we found your dog, the flyer in our mailbox helped us know who to call,” he said.

All told, it had been just over 24 hours since she disappeared. The hardest part was going to sleep without her and bracing for a long process later. Resilience education provides tools for making tough choices, and these tough decisions—combined with action and positive emotions—give people the best possible chance of overcoming adversity.

One last thing I learned the hard way: our dog is now equipped with a tracking collar, which I highly recommend.

Kelly Cummings is a 2022 Fellow with the Project on Positive Leadership, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University and founder of Well-being Wisdom.

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