4 years ago I found myself struggling. The year 2013 was full of professional ups and downs. It was my daughter’s second year of life and I was still working out what being a mum was all about, while regularly suffering from a severe lack of sleep. My office had been plagued with challenges and while my home life was great (if you ignore the sleepless nights), my work life was probably the worst it had ever been
I remember sitting at home on a Saturday night in November 2013 and everyone in my house was asleep. I had recently watched the movie Julie and Julia – a beautiful film about a young American girl who has lost purpose and passion, and so decides to spend a year blogging her way through Julia Child’s famous cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Now, let me be clear, I am no cook! But I had always loved the idea of a blog. And so, late that Saturday night for some completely unknown reason, I jumped on WordPress and started a blog called ‘The Happy Family Lawyer’.
I know now, looking back, that was the moment I chose to be ‘happy’ and it was the beginning of the change I didn’t know at the time just how much I needed. Because the thing is, I had (and have) so much to be happy about. It was just that at that time, I could not see it.
But what does it even mean to be ‘happy’?
Happiness is different for all of us but there are some common themes – a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning. A feeling of contentment, pleasure and joy.
Your happiness and my happiness might be different, and the beautiful thing about the world is that this is more than okay – what makes you ‘you’ will be different from what makes me ‘me’. We may have some similarities and perhaps many differences but my extensive reading, writing and research has shown me that there are simple things we can all do each day to improve our happiness and here are 3 of my favourites-
1. Spend some time in the sun today!
Serotonin is the main brain chemical responsible for mood balance. Serotonin is also linked to feeling good and living longer (both of which I am very interested in!). Low levels of serotonin have been associated with conditions such as depression. The good news is that we can naturally increase our body’s production of serotonin through exercise, a healthy diet, exposure to daylight and other fun stuff. So take your lunch outside today, lie on your back and dream a bit of a happy dream to make those serotonin levels soar!
2. Hug someone!
Oxytocin is sometimes called the hugging hormone! Oxytocin is a key part of our need and desire to form meaningful relationships with others. There is no end of research into the impact and effects of oxytocin, and some of the more recent research I have seen suggests strong links between oxytocin and our capacity to feel trust and empathy towards others. Relationships, intimacy, love, empathy and trust all add to our sense of happiness, so perhaps it is time to give and get some hugs for a bit of an oxytocin boost today. If you are not really the hugging type, then gift-giving has also been said to assist with the production of oxytocin, so perhaps try that instead.
3. Dance, Run or jump your way to Happiness
We love endorphins! They are released to help alleviate stress, anxiety and pain, and apparently have an effect on our bodies similar to that of morphine. They are best known for being increased after a good round of exercise. You might have heard of a ‘runner’s high’ – anyone who is a great lover of exercise, particularly running, will attest to the great feeling you get after the event (the problem is the bit where you have to convince yourself to start the run in the first place!). If running is not your thing, throw on your favourite song and get to dancing around the kitchen or grab a skipping rope and jump until your heart is content! Aside from regular exercise, one of the easiest ways to increase endorphins is to laugh. So take time for some jokes – bad or otherwise – to get a bit of laughter into your day.
The news is good if you are looking for a happier state of being. There are many things you can do each day that will help drive your happiness. Once you come to understand just how your brain is wired, you can start to change things in your daily routine to purposefully choose happiness.
It has taken me three and a half years of active, mindful thoughts and behaviours to find myself in a place where I can safely say to you that I am happy. I am a happy lawyer both at work and, more importantly, out of my office – with my family, friends and the world at large. This is not to say that I don’t ever experience any unhappiness any more. But I think the difference for me now, is that I have tools I can pull out of my ‘personal tool box’ that help me to refocus, to find the positives, to put things in perspective and to be happy again, sooner. And I know you can do it too.
Clarissa Rayward is a Divorce Lawyer and the Owner of Brisbane Family Law Centre. Over the past 14 years, Clarissa has worked with over 2000 families during separation and divorce. She specialises in assisting her clients to experience a dignified divorce- staying away from the Court process and finding sustainable agreements for the future. This past year Clarissa has begun to tackle the challenging issue of unhappiness in the legal profession through her writing and weekly Podcast ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ where once a week she interviews lawyers who have found a way to maintain a successful career in the law while not giving up their life outside of their career.
In January 2017 Clarissa published her second book, ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life- How to the be Happy in Law and Life’ and launched the first ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ online course, helping lawyers nationwide to better understand how they can drive happiness in their careers.
You can order a copy of Clarissa’s Book or find out more about her Online Course and Podcast below.