Throw a stone online and you’ll hit an article discussing how unhappy and depressed lawyers are. I’ve written about it here, as well.
What’s the antidote? There likely are many. Sleep more. Eat better. Exercise. Meditate. Stop being a lawyer.
One I’ve been practicing for awhile now is gratitude. If you’ve read many of my posts you may note I tend to write only about those things that really excite me. The practice of gratitude is one of those things.
Interested in exploring gratitude and what it can bring to your life? Try these exercises from Martin Seligman (psychologist in the study of happiness and author of Flourish – a recommended read).
THE GRATITUDE VISIT.
Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week. Got a face?
Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them. But sometimes our thank you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless. In this exercise … you will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to express your gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful manner.
Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter.
I did this with a former teacher of mine. It was by far one of the most amazing and humbling experiences I’ve ever had. It’s an incredible gift to both people involved.
THE THREE GRATITUDES.
This one is perhaps less daunting. Commonly called the “three blessings,” I call it the “three gratitudes.”
Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).
Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause … “She did everything right during her pregnancy.”
Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier.
I practice the three gratitudes somewhat religiously. I used to blog about them, and now keep a written journal. My family and I often do it together at the dinner table. No money-back guarantees offered, but I can attest that this is a powerful way to retrain your brain to focus first on the positive.
And not to state the obvious, but we lawyers are paid to focus on the negative. We spend our days mired in it. The reason I left litigation? Because, always and every time, and even after getting the client exactly what she wanted at the outset, everyone involved was miserable from the experience. Including me. The negative was overwhelming.
In my experience, it requires thoughtful, intentional, and consistent effort to combat the negative. One antidote: the regular practice of gratitude. Give it a go. Let me know what you think.