Are animals ultimately stoic?

Whilst watching a cat lazing around a cozy living room floor, it's hard not to think about the life of said cat and how it might be preferable to our own. Cats, especially, rarely seem to have a care in the world. In fact, it's only when their immediate need for nourishment is not being met or they've come across another cat they're not fond of that they ever seem anything but stoic.

But should we yearn for a simpler life? Do animals have fewer stresses than us humans and would life be that much better? 

Are animals stoic?

It's logical to believe pets have it easy. They really do. They have Maslow's hierarchy of needs pretty sewn up. I guess it is all relative, however, and if their food is an hour late or they've lost their favourite toy things might be very stressful for them. Who can say?

But what about actual stoic traits? What about anxious dependence on the future or dwelling on the past?

It's widely believed that humans are the only species on the planet that thinks about the future. However, animals, including birds, are quite capable of planning into the future but maybe not to the same degree as humans. Humans have complex fantasies and worries, many of which may be entirely ridiculous. We might find ourselves planning decades into the future. There's certainly no evidence that animals have these kinds of thoughts.

We also know that animals have memory - this is how they learn and this is how pets are trained. There are countless studies that demonstrate animals have both short-term and long-term memory and that there are associated responses to these memories.

But do animals relive the past? Do they have regrets? Are they proud of their achievements to date? We know that dogs seem to grieve the loss of an owner or doggy companion, which would indicate both emotional attachment and a longing for the past. Again, it is difficult to know how and what different species of animals memorise and how often they contemplate the past.

Elephants, believed to be one of the smartest animals in the kingdom, store information that will help them survive such as the location of food and identification of family members. This ability to remember the past also means they grieve the loss of relatives.

However, it is shown that animals, especially in the wild, can move on from incredibly traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a mate to a predator, very quickly. Their inherent survival instincts kick in and they get on with their lives.

But what about emotions and consciousness? We continue after this delightful image of a blissful-looking capybara.

 

A lot of whether you believe animals are stoic idols probably comes down to whether you believe animals experience a full range of emotions or have a sense of their own consciousness. Animals have personalities and they are certainly capable of emotional responses leading to oxytocin release, for example, but how deep does their emotional intelligence run?

If ignorance is bliss and, similarly, if we can only be brave if we know fear, are animals stoic simply because they are less self-aware and less intelligent than we? Does this make them any less stoic, regardless?

Arguments surrounding animals' emotional capacity are complex and based in science, psychology, and philosophy. Many of the issues are compounded by conflicting definitions of 'emotion' and 'consciousness', and some typical discussion points are covered in this National Geographic article

It's all relative 

For cared-for animals, their basic needs are pretty well covered - food, water, shelter, as we've mentioned. They want for little more. Especially cats. But what if life wasn't all underfloor heating, food from a pouch and daily snuggles?

What about other animals? What about those living in the wild, who are watching out for predators and have to hunt for food? Surely it's all instinctive. It's hard to imagine that animals take any of their hardship personally.    

 

Are animals more stoic than humans purely because they are less intelligent?

 

If you have comprehended this post, you are not an animal so there's certainly no point wishing to be one. Given that animals do experience a range of emotions, even if many are more instinctive and less complex than yours, it's all relative.

Being human gives us the potential for a much broader range of experiences and emotions and this is good. But with deeper understanding and intelligence, we seem to have given ourselves the ability to be concerned about matters we ought not to.