I had just completed a four-year period of work that was blissful. Between writing and teaching, I felt aligned with everything I believed in. Then my partner got a job in another country. I looked at myself and realized I had never really leaped for love.

So I left some of my work, brought some with me, and tried the leaping thing. Facing your fears might make others call you courageous, but at the time, you feel like a sissy. I felt the need to forecast the future and predict the outcome. I wanted to know: Where would this take me?

Until my cat got sick, and that was all I could think about.

As I nursed her back to health, I was forced to slow down. In that space, I recognized what animals seem to know instinctively: that the present moment is where the magic is. That’s not the only time I found myself being taught exactly what I needed to learn from a pet. Their lives and habits are bottomless pools of inspiration, if we just stop and pay attention. These are just some of the beautiful lessons I’ve received from the great animal loves of my life:

1. Do your best.

When an animal is not feeling its best, it doesn't fake it until it makes itself worse. Nor does it wallow. It lets itself be sick, but it also appreciates the small things, like the comfort from a loving hand. We don’t have to be inauthentic on our worst days, but we also don’t have to fall to pieces.

2. Routine can be a wonderful thing.

Ever see a dog pee on the same spot as the day before? There is a kind of personal triumph in it. They’ve found it to be pleasurable before and anticipate that they will again. If you find yourself scattered, try to find the joy in the simple things that you repeat on a daily basis, like enjoying that cup of coffee before the world gets crazy.

3. Ask for a little. Give a lot.

Animals give so much more in terms of affection and presence than we ever give them. Ever have an animal crave your attention when you’re doing your best to get through your emails? Practice the art of giving: a meal, a massage, a hug, a kind word. Animals are onto something: It feels pretty darn great.

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4. Don’t forecast.

If you’ve ever put a cat in a carrier and taken it to the vet, you know that it is a great shock and betrayal to the animal. They never imagine you will do it, even if you have the carrier out and even if you condition them in advance. Film director Baz Luhrmann said, “Don’t worry about the future. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”

5. Keep it simple.

Some of the best days in your life won’t involve Champagne and caviar. They will be as simple as a stolen glance, a worn-in couch, and the kind of laughter that makes your stomach hurt.

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