Does This Bring You Joy?

by Susi on November 12, 2015

in dog, dog show, dog shows, Joy

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When I learned that a competitor from the group ring recently won her breed’s National Specialty, I was hardly surprised. In my view, her dog is the complete package: Sound, exemplary of breed type, showy – and a moving fool.

That said, a National Specialty draws out many great dogs, and presumably, such was the case when my friend’s dog achieved the ultimate prize in our sport. Still, I’ve competed against her often enough to know that she had a secret weapon going in. I could picture the unadulterated joy I knew she’d have written all over her face as she showed her dog in the Best of Breed ring. She would be wearing a smile so wide, only its genuineness would keep her from looking foolish. I’ve witnessed it often enough to know that a good dog in the hands of a capable handler who is clearly proud of their entry is an irresistible package to most judges.

Joy. One doesn’t hear the word used much to describe our sport, but it does make me wonder: Would the fancy attract new people and give novices extra staying power if more people in it would remember that being at a dog show is better than standing in line at the DMV? Haven’t we all had a judge that made us wonder why he or she was still judging? Haven’t some of us encountered the odd exhibitor, show rep, or club officer so consistently sour tempered that they seemed pained to be doing what they’re doing? Are “dog show bullies” really just people who are burned out?

My fascination with looking at other aspects of life to understand my own sport lead me to hear of professional organizer, Marie Kondo, whose method of organizing one’s home is rooted in the simple concept of joy. Her runaway best selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” made a celebrity of the Japanese woman who reshaped the thinking of clients desperate to “edit” their homes once and for all. Her Zen-like approach suggests that we’re asking the wrong question when holding up an item or garment and asking ourselves when the last time was that we used it. Instead, Kondo instructs her clients to regard the item in their hand and ask themselves, “Does this bring me joy?” Items that don’t “spark joy” should be thanked for their service (very Zen), and then discarded. An item to which there is guilt attached should it be thrown out, such as a gift or memento, needs to be regarded as having done its job by sparking joy when it was received, but if guilt is the only reason we continue to keep it, it needs to move on, it did its job.

Joy, Marie Kondo, anti-clutter, organizing,

Kondo’s philosophy inspires us to fundamentally re-think our relationships to the objects in our everyday lives. When I came to realize that it’s not so much things we hang on as much as the emotions attached to them, I was finally able to donate 35 years worth of show ribbons, rosettes and medallions that were once special to me (though I stopped short of thanking each and every one of them). Kondo’s is a simple approach, brilliantly effective, and as I see it, applicable to life choices as well. When I realized that obligation or guilt was a lousy reason to enter a dog show because the judge was “good” for my dog even though I didn’t really feel showing, I was able to let the entry deadline come and go without regret.

There is no shame in editing our “dog lives” as we would our closet. When applying Kondo’s approach to simplifying one’s home into bettering one’s life, it helps pare away the extraneous and ultimately leads to the conclusion that it’s better to do fewer things that we really love, rather than many things we “sort of” like. Life is just too short to stay involved with something just because we’ve always done it, and it’s especially too short to be doing something we don’t really enjoy any more because the world changed, the fancy changed, or, more likely, we changed.

“Sparking joy” can mean different things to different people, but if there’s no joy in showing our own dog because ring nerves reduces us to nausea, or if the importance of volunteering in a breed club is overshadowed by unpleasant clashes of personalities, why are we doing it? How effective can anyone be if they dislike what they’re doing or the people with whom they’re doing it, and how happy can our dogs be when they’re with us at those times?

We think nothing of editing our closets and drawers to rid ourselves of things that longer fit, have gone out of style, or fail to “bring us joy,” but how many of us are doing things for the wrong reasons? Is there a tacit sense of obligation in some of us that we must show our dog at each and every show, particularly if it’s a rare or uncommon breed and majors are hard to come by? If our dog does some winning, is there’s a sense of duty to campaign him because some around us would “kill” to have such a dog? If we have a sound bitch that has passed her health clearances, do we feel that we “owe” it to the breed to have her bred even though whelping, raising and placing her puppies is more than we want to take on? Though few of us can resist puppy breath, not everyone feels up to producing it. I’m not suggesting that we abandon the sport, but perhaps for some of us, it’s time to explore other things we can do in it. Wouldn’t it be better to find what does bring us joy?

The thing about joy is that once we give ourselves permission to weed out what it isn’t, the feeling can be life-long.

Otis Williams, founder, and last surviving member of the original Motown group, the Temptations, is still performing at the age of 73. I recently saw the group in concert, and as Williams stepped through the signature Temptation dance moves, he wore an expression on his face that struck me as very familiar. And then it came to me. It was the same joyous grin worn by my fellow exhibitor, the National Specialty winner, when she shows her dog. After fifty-five years of performing with the group, Mr. Williams still finds joy in singing to an audience. How many of us will be able to say the same after five decades in the sport?

This article first appeared in Dogs in Review

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Kitchener November 12, 2015 at 5:17 pm

Now I have Anita Baker’s “You Bring Me Joy” playing in my head. It was a good song, and this is another great piece of writing. I’m going to have to get that book and share it with my mother. She recently sold the home we grew up in and moved into a nice little condo. She needs to give herself permission to edit a few things, but her guilt and sense of obligation won’t let her. That book sounds like a great read.

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Susi November 12, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Jay, the book absolutely gave me permission to get rid of things. Mind you, there are a lot of chapters to get through to get to the meat of her philosophy, i.e., her childhood and how this woman was born to do what she does, but when I read about sentimental items having done their job by having given me pleasure when I bought or received them, it was a “Eureka” moment for me. I hope it might resonate with your mom, as well. It’s liberating.

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Dave Johnson November 12, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Thanks for the heads up regarding the philosophy of ‘joy’, Susi! My ‘dog show life’ is pretty oderly – I’m pleased to say that Arlo the Puli has sired his second litter of lovely pups, but I’m certainly not the breeder! However, other facets of my life certainly need to be ‘thanked and retired’. I just needed the proper frame in which to view it. You’re just the best!

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Susi November 12, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Awww, Dave, thanks for that, but honestly, while I can’t say that the book changed my life, is has put into context a great many other things in my life. I mean really, who hangs on to a term paper from college when they’re, um, my age?

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Dave Johnson November 13, 2015 at 10:04 am

You’re looking at him…(:<P))

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Annie Fitt November 12, 2015 at 7:28 pm

I had a similar experience to yours with Mr. Williams. Many years ago I saw a Broadway revue put on by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. It was a weekday matinee, nothing to make them take a special effort with pieces they had performed countless times before, but it ended up being magical. What made it so wonderful was the obvious joy they took in their work – they clearly liked working with each other, and found the routines funny and fun. How irresistible is that?..

I’m going to find a copy of this book – sounds like I need it. I have been working on joy in my life, and this will open up more room.

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Susi November 12, 2015 at 7:57 pm

The book is available at libraries, Annie, though I had to wait a long time to get it. The wait should be less now, but I reserved the book after an article about it appeared in, I think, the New York Times. That said, prepare to wade through a few chapters about the author’s early life. She was, it sounds to me, born to do what she’s doing now. Still, her philosophy resonated with me in a way that no other “self help” book on decluttering has.

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Dave Johnson November 13, 2015 at 10:07 am

It’s available on Amazon ( think…www.smile.amazon.com, whereby a percentage of your purchases are directed to a non-profit of your choice!) as a hardcover and for the Kindle e-reader ( for much less $$!)…but look for the right cover! It appears the author has condensed versions – presumably with less content – selling at a lower cost.

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Mike Helms November 13, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Sage advice, Susi…as for me, after 53 years, I still look forward to getting in the ring and showing my dogs, pushing my skills and myself. It is getting harder for me to walk, but I can ignore the pain as long as I have a good dog to show and a place to show him/her. This is the most joy I can experience alone and it only gets better when my wife is there competing with me….

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Susi November 13, 2015 at 5:47 pm

Mike, you old romantic softie. I always love hearing from you.

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