Navigating Unexpected Outcomes: Lessons from the Lost Puppy

A weekend of high expectations took an unexpected turn. Anticipating a great fall out with animals, children and ADHD in the mix, I was surprised, intrigued and encouraged by the synergies between positive psychology and animal instincts, providing a welcome lesson in resilience and emotional growth.

Zeena Hicks

8/23/20232 min read

In a recent personal experience, the journey of our gorgeous family dog giving birth to her first litter of puppies took an unforeseen turn. The anticipation of welcoming new additions to our family brought excitement and preparation, but life's twists had other plans.

After a two-day labour process marked by intermittent contractions, it was revealed that our whelping dog was to have just one puppy. This occurrence, known as single pup syndrome, arose from the absorption of the other two expected pups, resulting in a larger-than-usual pup that sadly did not survive. This unexpected turn of events prompted moments of reflection and contemplation.

Sharing the news with our children about the change in expected outcome was a challenging task. However, their mature and empathetic responses reinforced the importance of our family's foundation in positive psychology. This framework, on which positive education is based, emphasises the power of optimistic thinking and emotional resilience, and it played a significant role in how we collectively approached and processed this adversity.

Reflecting back, the experience highlighted the impact of unmet expectations. Disappointment, frustration, sadness, surprise, anger, self-blame, cognitive dissonance, and regret are all emotions that can arise when expectations fall short. Drawing from positive psychology, we found that its principles offer tools to navigate these emotions:

Emotional Mastery: Acknowledging and addressing natural emotional responses.

Cognitive Flexibility: Adapting perspectives to uncover silver linings and opportunities for growth.

Self-compassion: Extending kindness and forgiveness to oneself.

Cognitive Resilience: Balancing hope with acceptance, even amid unpredictability.

Social Support: Seeking empathy and understanding from others to aid in the healing process.

What felt most surprising though was that positive psychology appears to demonstrate its relevance in both typical and neurodivergent scenarios. My expectations were further tested, but more positively this time, by the response of our two neurodivergent sons. I was expecting calamity and got calm, reminding me of the importance of not judging or misperceiving another person’s capabilities, no matter how close you are to them.

This life journey with our neurodivergent family further revealed the parallels between the principles of positive psychology and the innate instincts of animals. Animals exhibit resilience, adaptability, and a present-focused existence, mirroring positive psychology's emphasis on mindfulness and psychological strength-building.

While the outcome deviated massively from our initial expectations, positive psychology inadvertently guided us, both human and animal, in letting go of negative emotions and embracing our new reality with a constructive outlook. The incident of the lost puppy became an opportunity to bond, learn, and continue our journey of personal and collective growth.

Our experience with our dog and her unexpected litter taught us that life's surprises can serve as profound lessons in resilience, adaptability, and the power of positive psychology. As parents and educators, embracing these principles can help us guide our children through unforeseen challenges, fostering emotional intelligence and a constructive approach to life's uncertainties.

While we may all prefer not to come across adversities, knowing you have a solid foundation to draw on when things get tough can be immensely reassuring. So, no matter how challenging a situation becomes, you can rest assured "you've got this"!