10 Important Life Lessons I've Learned From My Cat

As most of you cat enthusiasts know, Oct. 29 is National Cat Day, and as a proud cat mom myself, it's only natural that I start to feel a bit, well, proud. When I was younger, getting a cat was my personal definition of "being an adult" — despite the fact that I was cat-crazy as a child, my parents weren't really pet people. In fact, getting a dog in third grade was an event that my sister and I both made way too big of a deal over, calling up neighbors and holding "dog naming" contests with our not-so-immediate family. While there were plenty of lessons that my childhood dog helped me understand, what I didn't know is that as a young adult cat-owner, there'd be a lot of life lessons that I learned from my cat as well, who I brought into my life at the ripe old age of 25. When you're 25, you think you know everything — but, believe me, there were a lot of trials and tribulations ahead of me that my young, fragile brain wouldn't have been willing to comprehend. In honor of National Cat Day, here are a few reasons why I believe that cat ownership totally changes a person's views of life.

After a few failed Craigslist connections with strangers willing to give up their adorable litters of accidental kittens, I made a match when a college acquaintance managed to save a stray that was outside of her apartment. "He's definitely smaller than his other brothers and sisters, I'm guessing he was the runt of the litter," this acquaintance told me in an e-mail. "He's about five weeks old, all black, short haired with one tiny white spot on his chest." Attached was this picture, of a furry baby alien.

I couldn't say no to that face. Of course, I had my worries — it could be dangerous for kittens to separate from their mother when they are less than eight-ish weeks old, but it seems like their mother somewhat flew the coop. My acquaintance added that this kitten was (surprisingly) already litter trained, and eating both wet and solid food. She brought him kitten milk just in case, but he wasn't really super interested. Either he was a little older than projected, or the smartest cat in the history of felines.

Long story short, I named him Finn, realized "he" was actually a "she" shortly after the name stuck (honestly, it's tough to tell sometimes), and she's been my companion ever since. I literally feel like I know the ins and outs of this cat, predicting toys and treats she'd like in a pretty accurate manner. In turn, she helped me out with an emotional stint of unemployment, and taught me a few very important lessons.

1. It's important to be independent.

When I was a child, I was fiercely independent. But as I got older, a dialogue similar to "Wait — I don't want to go to the bank by myself! Can I go to the bank by myself?" played in my head somewhat often. Little things that I never had a problem with before suddenly became stupid chores that I often pushed aside. And, you know what? I was worse off for it.

Cats play by their own rules. Sure, they depend on you for clean litter, water, and food, but they typically don't need you to constantly entertain them. They set their own rules. They figure stuff out on their own. They're a reminder that yes, we can function independently. The first few weeks of Finn's life were pretty rough, but she managed to survive even the harshest of weather conditions, while still learning key kitten-skills.

2. Conversations don't have to be well planned to make a difference.

Maybe this makes me a crazy cat lady, but Finn and I have a conversation every morning. It usually consists of her and I meowing at each other, and then she rubs her face against my leg. It's weirdly nice and reassuring, kind of like a reminder of "Hey! I missed you. Just wanted to say hi."

It kind of reminds me that no matter what life tosses at you, you still need to contact your friends and ask them how they've been. Even if it's a few measly texts, it's better than nothing. Friendships will hit dull moments at times, but sometimes even an "I've been thinking about you!" text will make someone's day.

3. Know when you've reached your limit.

You know how you sometimes pet cats, and things are good, and then they get a little feisty? All cat owners know of the "dangers of the belly zone." Unlike dogs, who can withstand belly rubs for days, cats only seem to enjoy this maneuver for a few seconds.

But, you know what? That's actually kind of cool, if you think about it. Cats aren't afraid to be like, "I've had enough of this for now." If that were the same with humans, we wouldn't be afraid to give notice at a terrible, demeaning job, nor would we stay in a relationship with Mr. Wrong for long past its expiration date. Cats are super upfront about their limits, and it's pretty darn admirable.

Sure, it's terrifying to say something like, "Hey, I've been the office doormat for two years now, and I usually cry a little before bed. So I'm done." But if you were a cat? You'd have spoken up the second you felt disrespected. While we probably shouldn't bite our bosses, we also shouldn't be afraid to be honest about our feelings.

4. Don't be afraid to look goofy while you're having fun.

Own a cat? Own a laser pointer? Well, you've got entertainment for hours! Finn isn't a big fan of most toys, but she is fond of plastic bags and laser pointers. The best part about the laser pointer is that I'm convinced she knows I'm behind it. (She gives me a wide-eyed look of glee the second I pick it up, knowing that pouncing and running will soon happen.) And yes, she looks supremely goofy during this entire ordeal.

This is why, despite being the world's worst dancer, I'm not afraid to showcase my Elaine Benes skills on any dance floor. This, right here, is why "Baby Got Back" will never fail to make me shake my groove thing. Even if people have cameras.

5. Choose your companions wisely.

Finn and I have a special bond, and I know that while she's open to meeting others, it'll take a long time for her to have that same level of trust. This cat loves me even when I try to trim her nails, and feed her medication when she's sick, and she forgives me after our bi-annual household chasedowns when I try to get her into a cat carrier. Even when I put my cat in positions that'll benefit her health over her happiness, she gets over it pretty quickly.

That's because she's learned that I'd never openly put her in danger. She knows that all of these uncomfortable moments were for a purpose. It's hard to earn a cat's trust, but when you have it, it'll never go away.

Similarly, humans should always pick human companions that always have their best interest at heart — friends who won't shove you into an embarrassing situation for laughs, or badmouth you the second your back is turned. Once you take the "cat approach" to friendships, you'll realize how drama-free your weekends can be.

6. Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of.

Cats can be quite nervous — even a loud noise can send them hiding under a couch for an hour or two. For Finn, she (like me) hates change. She once pitched a fit after I moved some furniture around, and it took her way too long to get used to the new situation. Remember how I mentioned how we communicate? Unfortunately you can't meow an explanation of feng shui.

After I started working from home, I noticed that Finn developed a few anxious tendencies — for one, she started over-grooming her paws. She wasn't too sure about me occupying her space every day, and that was her way of dealing. As sad bald cats are upsetting to see, I took her to the vet, who prescribed her some food with calming tryptophan. From there, I also bought her a calming collar, which she seemed open to wearing. Pretty soon, her issue was under control, and she seemed a lot happier.

So the real question was, why did I jump to help my cat's anxiety, when it took me years to see my own doctor about the anxiety I was feeling? After I took some time to think about it, I realized that I had anxious tendencies since elementary school — and I never did anything about it, based on shame and the feeling that "surely everyone else feels the same way!"

Anxiety is, honestly, nothing to be ashamed of. And the sooner you find a way to get it under control, the better your quality of life will be.

7. Sunlight will always make you feel better.

Finn's favorite spot is right by the glass doors of our basement. Nine out of 10 times, I find her lounging in the sunniest spot every morning.

When it became time to change up our lightbulbs, I opted for the "Daylight" bulb — just to see if my own mood would improve if I was surrounded by something other than "Warm White." I honestly feel rejuvinated — it's like every day is summer in this basement. Light makes quite the difference, and even a little bit of sun can be a total gamechanger.

8. Don't be afraid to do things that scare you.

Cats can be a little skittish — yet, there have been a few moments where I've been extremely proud of Finn's bold mannerisms.

For example, my husband and I adopted a dog shortly after our wedding. He's an adorable Jack Russell mix, and we fell in love with him instantly. Granted, I knew a bit about the Jack Russell mentality — they're scent-based hunting dogs, who can often be a little bit aggressive. We knew that if Finn and the dog interacted at all, it'd always be with one of us present.

Without being forced, Finn decided to meet this strange beast that was making a lot of noise, all on her own. We tried to show the dog that our cat wasn't a danger to the house, and in due time, our dog actually became somewhat enamored with her.

They're (unfortunately) not best friends by any means, but Finn pretty much let our dog know that she wasn't going to be bossed around, without using teeth or claws. In general, our cat stood her ground. She didn't let a new, bigger, high-energy family member take away what was already hers. I think that's pretty darn cool.

9. Eat more fish.

The stereotypical cat in coloring books loves yarn, milk, and fish — yet when you own a cat, you learn that these are three pretty terrible joys for a healthy kitty.

However, if I've learned anything from Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey back in elementary school, it's that cats are natural born fishers. Sassy fished out dinner for her dog companions, and I remember it being the coolest thing ever.

Whenever I make tuna fish, I pretty much leave the end scraps for Finn. It's a total rarity, but it never fails to make her day. I know that too much of it might lead to bad consequences, so I choose to treat her infrequently — and flash back to that awesome Homeward Bound scene every time.

Cats have it right — fish are amazing for you. They're mostly low in fat, but have a ton of important protein to keep you going. And according to the Washington State Department of Health, eating fish can help aid depression, Alzheimer's, and ADHD.

In conclusion, be like Sassy. Eat more fish.

10. Always take some time to relax.

Finn always snoozes. A cat's life is pretty easy, if you think about it. While cats don't have to worry about making enough money to, you know, pay the rent and make sure the electricity is still on next month, watching them curl up into a big pile of fur is a little reminder that we should always take an hour or so to just chill out and relax. The world won't collapse if you take a break and watch an episode or two of Gilmore Girls.

If you've ever found yourself thinking that there's just not enough hours in the day, you have to remember that taking a break and having some "you time" will prevent a massive meltdown later. If we don't make time to sit down and enjoy life, what's the point?

Images: Karen Belz (5), Christina Tyler