By now you’ve probably heard of Noodle the pug, the Internet’s most recent main character.
As NPR, The Today Show, and The New York Times will tell you, Noodle is a TikTok star and an unknowing soothsayer for the extremely online. Every day, he and his owner, Jonathan Granzino, play a game: If Granzino wakes up a sleepy Noodle and the elderly pug stands, it’s a “bones day.” If he flops back down, it’s a “no bones day.” And, as Granzino’s voice-over explains, “We find out what kind of day we’re going to have.”
Bones-or-no-bones has become a quasi forecast for bad days or good days, embraced in a way that’s both serious and not. The hashtag #nobones has been viewed on TikTok at least 348.8 million times, and the videos are not just of Noodle: they’re also of people reacting to Noodle and commiserating with Noodle.
“As a 30-year-old sufferer of fibromyalgia, I strongly relate to feeling like I have no bones some days, so Noodle is like, my boy,” Krista Xavier tells me.
Noodle is both a real dog and now a meme: a self-referential piece of media, sincere and ironic, that facilitates community and conversation.
But we have many memes, many “main characters,” and many pets online: Why is this dog now such a phenomenon?
1. He’s cute.
Let’s just get that out of the way. Noodle is a dog, and we like them. We know this both in our hearts and because scientists have studied our reactions to seeing dogs online.
“Research shows seeing cute things such as dogs can provide boosts to well-being as measured by how happy, safe, calm, content, in-control, and grateful people feel,” Melanie Badali, a psychologist, tells me. “There is specific research showing that sense of well-being can improve by looking at photos of dogs online.”
2. He’s perfect for this moment.
In the United States, Covid-19 was declared a public health emergency on February 3. We’ve lived roughly a million years since then.
“I think with Covid, many of us are having more ‘no bones’ days than we would like,” Badali says.
The pandemic ignited and/or forced us to recognize our uncertainties. During uncertain times, we want to have a sense of control, Badali says, whether that be through reading horoscopes — or seeing if an old Pug wants to stand up in the morning.
The pandemic also “provided the time and space for many to finally slow down, integrate some self-care into their days, and experience a more balanced life,” says Dana Gionta, a psychologist and life coach.
“‘No bones day’ comes with a wonderful permission to rest, take it easy, flop on whatever activities you don’t want to do, and practice self-care without guilt,” Gionta says. “Or any self-judgment, since Noodle is the one who decided it’s a day of rest, not them.”
3. He gives us a word for a feeling.
Badali says it is possible Noodle is helping people identify feelings, label them, and communicate them to others.
It’s putting a nebulous feeling into words — “no bones” — and research shows a process called affect labeling can help us regulate our emotional experiences. When we’re given a label to describe a feeling, we’re better at exerting control over our emotional state.
“It could be that having easy, simple choices [“bones” or “no bones”], accessible to describe the prevailing feeling of the day, may help both regulate the ‘no bones’ mood and communicate to others in a way that is socially endearing,” Badali says.
4. He gives us permission to feel how we need to feel.
Yes, the Noodle forecast is not real. Whatever. It’s also freeing in a society that frames quitting as failure and rest as wasted time.
“Many people really struggle with self-care and often feel selfish or guilty if they do it,” Gionta says.
Noodle, she says, gives us permission to embrace what we’ve been conditioned to reject — rest — in a way that feels more societally acceptable. It’s just an Internet joke, right? Right?
Ultimately, recognizing a “no bones” day can benefit your mental health. It’s okay to take a step back and realize today is just not your day, and you need to be a bit kinder to yourself.
“Some days, whether it’s because we didn’t sleep well, have some health issues, or for many other reasons, we do not feel our best,” Gionta says.
“If we acknowledge this, bring kindness and acceptance to ourselves and body, and readjust the expectations for our day, something very positive happens. Sometime over the day, our energy shifts, our mood lifts, and we often find ourselves feeling better.”
5. He normalizes “no bones.”
“It may help us feel less alone if not only a cute dog does not want to get out of bed, but also a ton of other people also related to the image,” Badali says.
There are few things as mainstream and all-American as The Today Show. And while you may say Noodle’s appearance was a puff piece (it was a puff piece), it was also a piece about a dog that has a lot of people online talking about how they handle malaise and depression.
Is it sad that it takes a dog for us to feel comfortable discussing those feelings? Maybe! But it’s also a good start.