Habits for Health and Happiness

When I first adopted my black Alabai dog, she had what people call an accident. She went far into a corner of the house and did her business on the floor. She never did that again. Not because of any negative feedback from me, because I never even let her know I found out. But what I did was close off the house so we only lived in the kitchen, bathroom and my bedroom for a while. I also started to walk her as soon as I fed her, morning and night.

I took advantage of two natural phenomena: The gastrocolic reflex that at least human babies are born with, and the power of habit. The dog’s brain and intestine both knew what to expect very soon after she joined me.

Now that I have two Alabais, it is amusing and convenient to have them always pooping in tandem. (As a Swede, I use a child word but I don’t use the euphemism of dogs going to the bathroom – I find that expression silly and confusing.)

I get horses to come inside the barn at night just by whistling and bringing food; then I close the doors while they eat. They even watch for that to happen. I made them want what I want, so this works for all of us.

I have many patients who lead irregular lives: They eat and sleep seemingly at random, not because they are shift workers, but because they never saw the need to follow any given rhythm. After all, television and streaming are on 24/7 and so are many other services and distractions in our society.

Diurnal rhythms exist naturally not just for our digestive processes, but hormones, vital signs, tissue regeneration and more things that I, as a country doctor, am excused from keeping track of. I just know that habits and bodily rhythms are good for us and unless we need to work irregular hours to earn our living in this frantic society, we are better off living like most animals – according to a stable pattern.

I am amused and confused by the opposite extreme of habits I see in other patients: Some people obsess over their habits by monitoring sleep, steps, calories and vital signs on their smartphones. I think overthinking the natural processes of our bodies and our lives can be counterproductive. Our brain is not the supreme control center many people imagine it to be.

We need to avoid over-analyzing what should be automatic functions; start worrying about your blood pressure and it goes up every time you recheck it, for example. Walk your dog, cuddle your cat, listen to the birds instead. Let the light go dim when evening falls and let the sun shine in your window every morning. Plan your meals, schedule your chores, and give your brain the freedom to be creative with something other than constantly reorganizing and reinventing what should be your day and your body on autopilot.

2 Responses to “Habits for Health and Happiness”


  1. 1 johndykersmddykerscom July 9, 2021 at 5:10 pm

    And diurnal rhythms vary. Some of us are owls and some of us are larks.
    I used to call it “Third Shift Disease”.
    And Mrs. Edwards always worked 3rd shift at our hospital and everyone knew not to call her during her regular daytime sleep hours. She kept the same schedule even when not working.
    During calving season, the babies that came at 3 AM were usually accompanied by new calves in the pasture that morning.

  2. 2 Karen Scott July 9, 2021 at 9:24 pm

    Beautifully said. Thank you.


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Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.

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