“The good life is not a life you might have led or may yet lead, but the life you already have,” John Gray writes. “Here,” he adds, “cats can be our teachers, for they do not miss the lives they have not lived.” In other words, our feline friends are content as is, while humans seek a notion of happiness to break free from ourselves.”
From the beginning, humans have chased after the concept of happiness and how to attain it. John Gray, a prominent philosopher, suggests living the good life can be learned from cats. Not to be confused with the self-help author of “Men are from Mars and Women from Venus”, John Gray is a well-respected analytical philosopher, author, lecturer, and creative thinker, John Gray’s latest book, “Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life”. suggests that we have much to learn from cats, and how this knowledge can enrich our lives. While cat lovers have known this to be true for some years now, John Gray takes it to an entirely new level, helping to bridge the gap from anecdotal pet praise, to a deeper philosophical truth. He discusses how cats can teach us to live a better life, by internalizing what they teach and putting it into practice.
Cats are Content to Live Life on a Day to Day Basis
One of the more obvious factors involves cats and happiness. Cats don’t actively seek out happiness and many people do. A well kept feline is content with lounging on a window sill, catching the noon day sun. A human, however, may sit near the same window sill and experience discontentment, wondering if that is enough, should they want more, along with a host of other concerns. It can be argued that having these concerns forms a basis for anxiety and depression, creating an unhappy state for the human. Cats, on the other hand, have no such concerns. Basically, catching some rays on the window sill feels good, and that’s enough.
Cats Teach Us the Importance of Initiative
While it has been said that a well-kept domestic cat is content to live life on a day to day basis, its desire for contentment may have driven it to initiate contact with humans during ancient times. Gray believes that the cat took the initiative in its own domestication. They accomplished this feat by frequenting granaries where they found a non-stop supply of rodents to feast upon. Slowly, both human and cat realized that this relationship was beneficial to both parties. Soon, the cat moved from the granaries into the home. On the other hand, it is believed that other animals, such as cows, chickens and horses had to be domesticated by force, against their will. What does this teach us? From this we can learn that as humans living in a human world, we can be taught to better ourselves by considering our individual needs, and take the initiative to fulfill them. Not only that, we are reminded of the various forms relationships take, and the benefits they provide.
Cats Don’t Rely On Stories
Cats do not create stories, are not aware of death and have no self image to maintain, all of which are elements in the stories we create for ourselves. What is a story? In brief, a story can be considered an illusionary perception of ourselves. If our reality does not match up with our illusion, anxiety and depression can result. It’s evident that we shouldn’t try to be cats, as we are humans. However, we can learn from cats, and one of these lessons involves toning down our need to depend on stories for self actualization. In other words, if the story we create for ourselves does not happen, we enter a state of unhappiness. For you see, humans are always searching for that specific formula, or recipe for happiness, whereas a cat does not.
When humans create stories, goals are part of those stories. The problem lies in the fact that goals are future orientated, therefore uncontrollable. Consider John Lennon’s famous quote: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” It states the uncertainty of life, and how the best crafted plans can collapse. As such, if a goal does not materialize, the person risks feeling a failure, unfulfilled, anxious or depressed. Cats, on the other hand, live in the here and now. Cats do not appear to bemoan where they are simply because they did not get where they wanted to be.
We are not saying goals are a bad thing. However, when inserted into your story as a future achievement, can cause a person grief if not reached, or reached in an unacceptable way. So, if one is able to take the viewpoint of a cat, and live day by day looking at goals in a realistic way, we would fare much better. By including the factor of accepted uncertainty, the person has a better chance of emerging in a healthier state if things don’t turn out as planned. Think of it this way, if we live as a cat we learn how to adapt. Being able to adapt creates an environment for fulfillment and success. For example, one may argue that a cat has a short term goal to catch a mouse every day for dinner. However, if he catches grasshoppers instead, he is not disappointed, but content because his tummy is now full.
Cats Teach Us to Not Live Our Lives in Regret
As a philosopher who suggests living the good life can be learned from cats, Gray encourages people to not look for meaning in suffering. (https://daily.jstor.org/john-gray-cats-can-teach-us-about-the-meaning-of-life/). In fact, it’s the act of searching for meaning in suffering which causes many people to suffer even more. Cats don’t search for meaning in suffering. Cats regret nothing. They don’t spend hours a day regretting past actions and what they’ve lost, whereas people often do. As such, cats teach us to avoid placing our regrets on a pedestal. When we place them on a pedestal, our regrets prevent us from engaging in actionable behaviors which benefit us. Regrets are an obstacle to achievement.
In his interview with the British Library, Gray states that a cat can experience the overall wellness, which can be interpreted as happiness, but a human cannot due to regret. For instance, say someone creates a story involving an imagined life event, such as finding a treasure chest. If they happen to get married and have kids, they risk regretting never looking for that treasure chest This regret persists no matter how content they are with family life. They will take this regret to their deathbed. We can see how feared the concept of regret is today with the invention of the “bucket list”. Thus, according to Gray, “cats can be our teachers, for they do not miss the lives they have not lived.”
As can be seen, this philosopher suggests living the good life can be learned from cats. In his book he states that “human beings quickly lose their humanity but cats never stop being cats,” and that’s just what fascinates Gray the most about cats. After living with cats for most of his life, he’s come to realize that they retain their individuality out of personal choice, which is why they make such great teachers. Also, it’s not just because these cats are well-loved and domesticated. Anyone who has taken in and earned the trust of a feral cat knows how grateful they are to be loved. So perhaps that’s another element to add to the list: Gratitude for what one has.