It’s that beautiful time of year when most of the working world is still on holidays, the sun is shining (if you live in Australia like me it is anyway!) and our days are our own- no routines or rushing to work and hours to do nothing if you wish. All in all, it is a time when most of us find it easy to be ‘happy’. But as the new year feel fades and life returns to the usual day to day busyness of work, school and commitments, many of us ask how we can keep this ‘holiday happiness’ going all year round?
If you have followed my work over the past few years you will know that I have become an accidental wellness advocate for lawyers. My own experience in ‘rejigging’ my life in the law a few years ago to overcome a deep sense of unhappiness has ironically led me to a new ‘side career’ in working with other lawyers to help them find their own sense of ‘happiness’ too.
For a long time now we have seen and heard the research that keeps telling us the same thing- lawyers are struggling with very high levels of psychological distress that for many of us is taking a significant toll on our mental health. We know the stats, we understand the challenges but there is still so much work to be done.
Like many challenges in life, changing the very nature of law, law firms and the profession at large is an overwhelming task. So rather than trying to take on the impossible, my focus has been to look at what we lawyers can all do right now, as individuals for ourselves. And the good news is that there is so much we can do and most of it right now to be ‘happier’ lawyers.
When I talk about happiness I am referring to a sense of overall contentment in life. We can’t be happy all of the time but I do believe we can craft our lives to give ourselves the best chance of happiness both in and outside of the law.
So as you are throwing around those new year resolutions, why not toss these 3 simple ‘happiness tips’ into your planning too-
1. Book your breaks
This one is an essential happiness builder! At the beginning of each year there is nothing I like more than pulling out a large annual planner, a set of highlighters and setting the dates for our holidays for the year ahead. I do this before I get back to work in January so that I always know when my next break is coming. I like to mix up a few long weekends with longer weeks away with our family throughout the year and know that if I set the time aside now, at the beginning of the year, there is a far greater chance those breaks will actually happen!
Many of us lawyers, particularly those of us crazy enough to run law firms, are workaholics and tend to fall quickly into the trap of thinking it is easier not to take the break as there will only be a bigger pile of work to do when we get back! But let me promise you, when all is said and done, none of us are going to be looking back on our lives and thanking ourselves for those extra hours we invested in our workplaces when we should have been off enjoying the sunshine with the people we love most.
So do it now- pull out a full year calendar and a brightly coloured highlighter to set those dates and lodge those leave applications. Breaks are essential to your happiness.
2. Choose your Mindset
I am, by nature, an optimistic person, but it turns out most lawyers aren’t. With more pessimists in our profession than most, the pessimistic lawyer is never hard to come by. No doubt, they excel at their job given their natural ability to find problems well before they arise.
Some of us are naturally more ‘glass half full’ than others, but optimism is something you can create. This is the beautiful thing about how we think. You are in charge of your own thoughts and you can change them by training your brain to think in a particular way and changing what you are doing. I don’t mean in the career sense; I mean in the day-to-day, living your life, caught up in the hustle and bustle sense.
When it comes to being a happy lawyer, a positive, optimistic approach is key. Optimistic people handle stress better, get sick less and even live longer. Now, why wouldn’t we all want that?
The language we use can really affect our mindset. Last year someone wise suggested I replace the words ‘I have to’ with the words ‘I get to’. So not one to ignore a good happiness tip, I did and I can say it really has made a difference in how I feel about all the things ‘I get’ to do. My daily to do list that is often spanning 4 pages is now titled ‘Look at all the great things I get to do’! (yes I did customise my own stationary to improve my happiness- you can see for yourself here!)
So here is my 2018 challenge to you- every time you catch yourself saying ‘I have to…’ change the words to ‘I get to…’
I drive my husband crazy with this one each weekend- he does the grocery shopping each Sunday and every week says something like “argh! I ‘have’ to do the groceries today…’ and I of course correct him with ‘But you ‘get’ to do the groceries!’ (trust me, our grocery bill is a third the size if I leave him in charge so for the sake of our family happiness levels, he will ‘have to’ keep doing the grocery run for a while yet!
3. Make 2018 the year of the ‘thank you’
As human beings, we need social connection. We need friends, family and support around us. Above almost everything else, we need relationships with others. Core to human nature is a desire to be part of a community, a group, a family. In fact, our brain reacts in the same way to social rejection as it does to physical pain. Our brain is hardwired to be part of a bigger community. This is central to our survival.
My study of the science of happiness continues to show me the same thing over and over – good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest running studies on human behaviour, has found that the quality of our relationships is directly connected to our health and length of life. The research from Harvard makes it really simple – good relationships (and it is quality here that really matters) keep us happier and healthier and are a key to helping us live longer.
When it comes to being ‘happy’ the people we surround ourselves with make a big difference so why not make 2018 the year of saying ‘thank you’ to all the people that matter to you! Last year I bought 52 gift cards in January and each week made the effort to send a card to someone who had made a difference in my life. In this day and age of emails, social media and 24/7 distractions a hand-written card goes a long way. In 2018 find your way of saying ‘thank you’ and do it every 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.
A change is as good as a holiday someone wise once said! Why not make some ‘little’ changes in your daily routine and you might be surprised about the big changes that would flow!
And if you are after a little more help to start 2018 on a ‘happier’ foot why not join my FREE 7 day Happiness Challenge starting Monday 8 January 2018! You can learn more and sign up here. You can expect a week of tips, tricks, laughs and fun as I share some of my learnings on the things that have helped me build a career in the law that I (mostly) love! Why not join us… what have you got to lose as I like to say!!
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.