This post is an excerpt from my new book, 50 Lessons for Happy Lawyers: Boost wellness. Build resilience. Yes, you can. It will be available for pre-order soon, at Amazon.com. Email me here to get your free copy when it is released. Proceeds from the sale of this book will benefit the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness.
At one time or another we’ve all had the same thought. “I’ll be happy when [fill in the blank].” For some reason we’ve been conditioned to believe that happiness is the result of something happening to us or that it is the result of something we achieve. But that is not how happiness works. Or maybe we’ve been conditioned to believe that if we have a certain amount of money or a bigger house or a new car or a better job, then we’ll be happy. But that is not how happiness works.
There are so many people who, by all outward appearances, should be happy. Yet, on the inside, they are suffering. In the legal profession, the pain of unhappiness is almost epidemic. Research has shown that attorneys experience depression at a higher rate than the general public. Given the stress that is so often part of the practice of law, it is not surprising that far too many attorneys suffer from depression. The good news is that there are things we can do to increase our level of happiness and decrease our feelings of depression. That said, please don’t take any of the suggestions in this post as a substitute for professional support. If you are feeling depressed, reach out and get the support you need.
What is happiness?
First, let’s define happiness. According the Miriam Webster Dictionary, happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment.” According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, happiness encompasses both positive emotions and a sense of satisfaction. So, let’s get back to that definition. The truth is that while there may be common components of happiness, those components may differ from person to person. In her book, The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Lyubomirsky shares her research on happiness and some of the myths around it.
Lyubomirsky notes three factors that determine our level of happiness: Set Point, Circumstances, and Intentional Activity. Our Set Point, which accounts for about 50 percent of our happiness is rooted in our genetics. Lyubomirsky sets out this research based on studies of twins in her book, so I won’t go into it here. I highly reading her recommend her book. Circumstances – what happens to us – account for only about 10 percent of our happiness. The remaining 40 percent of our happiness in life is determined by our Intentional Activity. Yes, we can increase the level of happiness in our lives by intentionally doing those things that make us feel happy. So simple. Yet, simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy.
Why practice happiness?
In his book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Shawn Achor shares research from numerous studies demonstrating that when we are happy and in a positive state of mind we are better able to “make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things.”
Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive, which drives performance upward.
From The Happiness Advantage
Being happier will make you a better lawyer because when we are happy our brains simply work better. Yet, when you think of your typical day, how often do you feel happy? How often do you feel positive emotions? The work lawyers do – identifying problems, spotting issues, playing out “worst case scenarios” – can lead to an overdose of negative emotions when the exact opposite is what your brain needs to be at its creative best.
In addition to making you a better lawyer, being happy has many other documented benefits. According to research from the Greater Good Center at UC Berkeley, happiness benefits your health in six very specific ways.
- Happiness promotes lower heart rate and blood pressure
- Happiness strengthens your immune system
- Happiness can reduce stress
- Happiness can help to reduce pain and inflammation
- Happiness combats disease and disability
- Happiness lengthens our lives
Practice. Practice. Practice.
So, now that you know what happiness is and why it is important to your work as a lawyer and your life, what can you do about it increasing it? Increasing your happiness is all about doing things that, well, make you happy. I’m not suggesting you can flip a switch and become happier. I am suggesting that small changes every day can make a big difference in how happy you feel. Just like the law, happiness is a practice. And while practice may not make perfect, it does make permanent