The idea intrigued me, and, of course, my thoughts turned to the dogs. I have often wondered what they think, and I often put words to the thoughts I imagine ("I don't care if you wrap that stinking pill in cat poop; I am not going to swallow it." "Mailmanmailmanmailman!!!!"), but I never stopped to consider what they don't think about. Or how their lack of awareness of danger and illness and death frees them to burst into action. Any dog owner knows that desire or curiosity is all a dog needs to inspire naughty or silly or bad behavior. When a dog spots a squirrel, she doesn't look both ways before charging across the street. That's how animal spirits work. Somehow it does not inspire confidence—or animal spirits—in me to know that the people who invest our money rely on the same impulses as a dog that rolls in poop and then jumps on the bed.
I did please me to discover that Jane Austen used the term animal spirits in my favorite of her books, Pride and Prejudice (the version without zombies, thank you). I've read the book probably 30 times and never thought twice about the phrase, but it perfectly suits the character of Lydia Bennett. Here, Austen is describing Lydia, the youngest, silliest, most flirtatious, and least decorous of her five sisters:
Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age. She had high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which the attentions of the officers, to whom her uncle's good dinners and her own easy manners recommended her, had increased into assurance.The meaning Austen intends here is the one still recognized by the OED (which, by the way, does not recognize Keynes's definition)—"natural gaiety of disposition." But Lydia, as all readers of the book learn, illustrates Keynes's meaning, too. She displays naive optimism by not even pausing to think of her family or her reputation before running off with a handsome but penniless scoundrel. To Austen's credit, like any indulgent dog owner, she gives Lydia a pass. All ends well for Lydia and her sisters, just as all goes well for Muzzy when she steals another dog's ball or jumps in a mud puddle. All the responsible adults go "Tut, tut. For shame!" Then they tell her how cute she is and throw the ball again.
I recommend the following New Year's Resolution: To maintain animal spirits—within reason.