My kids live for PetSmart shopping trips. Even though our trips take us there for dog food, bones and squeaky toys, we always end up detouring over to the caged animals. My boys love searching for the snakes, camouflaged in their pen, hiding among the sticks. Meanwhile, the girls ooh and ah over the cute, furry bunnies. “Look at the floppy ears Daddy,” they happily squeal, as only little girls can.
I find those things interesting. However, only one thing at the pet store causes me to pause and put down my 30lb. bag of Purina One chicken and rice blend dog food. The actions of these critters mesmerize me each and every time.
Furry little bodies. Noses always sniffing. Tiny feet. Little bitty ears. And what’s with the constant running in the exercise wheel? They just make me laugh.
On one shopping trip, my crew watched this hamster get in and out of its wheel for five minutes straight. Run, get out. Get back in, run, get out. Get back in, run, get out. Over and over again it did this. We were rolling in the aisle with laughter.
As I watched the hamster gymnastics, I thought, “What a metaphor for life. So many people stuck in a rut, running but going nowhere. They accomplish nothing, as they do the same things over and over again.” I congratulated myself, as I swiped my debit card at the checkout line, for being such a clever thinker. Leaving the store, I jotted down a mental note to write a blog post about that someday.
A funny thing happened on the ride home among the “Stop thats” and the “Hey daddy” questions coming from the five year old in the back seat. I began to think my brilliant analogy might be incorrect.
I couldn’t get past why the hamster continued to return to the exercise wheel. It seemed to be stuck in a repetitious pattern of behavior. “Yet they have a brain,” I thought. “Why would they do something that appears so useless?”
Was their behavior indicative of something else? Were they actually receiving some benefit from their actions?
After returning home and feeding our ravenously hungry dogs, I hit the web to find out.
Turns out hamsters LOVE to run.
In fact, many studies have found hamsters to run over five miles in one night on exercise wheels. Theories suggest they run as a means of exercise – for activity. They may run as a substitute for the limited exploration they can find in a cage. It has even been suggested that wheel running may be self-rewarding, in the same type of way an endorphin release creates a “runner’s high” for the marathoner.
So running really does benefit hamsters. It’s not mindless behavior. Who knew?
It’s often been said that life is filled with ups and downs. The majority of the time however, we encounter times that are just flat, tedious and dreary. School’s the same. Work is the same. The kids are acting the same. We feel like our days are directionless, with no forward movement.
The worst part is that we are drawn back or feel forced back into the same daily activities, the same work situations, the same schedules, day in and day out. It frustrates us that we are compelled to repeat these patterns each day as we seemingly accomplish nothing. And we do feel like the hamster in the wheel. Running the race of life but going nowhere, getting nothing in return.
Ah…but we are receiving something in return. That’s the paradox. Whether or not we choose to see it is another matter altogether.
We are learning discipline.
We are building endurance.
We are still engaging in activities and not withdrawing into a useless shell.
We are most likely learning coping strategies.
Maybe it’s just about preparing for the next step up.
Even when running in the monotonous wheel that can be our life, we are still benefiting somehow. If your only option right now is to return to the wheel each day, then take the good you can receive from it. That decision will be more beneficial than just sitting on a log in your cage all day.
Perhaps you don’t enjoy or see the benefit of your job or daily routine. What lessons are you learning from being in that situation?