Associate Advice, Books, Fabulosity, Supreme Court Clerks

Happiness Tips for Lawyers

Ed. note: Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project. The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 15 weeks, ever since its publication (including hitting the #1 spot).

Although she’s now a writer, with a total of five bestselling and/or critically acclaimed books to her name, Rubin started her career as a lawyer. She graduated from Yale Law School, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, and clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court, for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Feel free to check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, or join the Happiness Project Facebook page.

We asked Gretchen Rubin to offer us some happiness advice aimed at a lawyerly audience. Her guest post appears below.

By Gretchen Rubin

A few years ago, I decided to do a happiness project. I spent a year testing the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. From my experience, to be happier, it helps to think about the little things in life—and also the big things. Here are some ideas specifically targeted to lawyers:

Tackle the little things: Happiness can seem like a lofty, abstract goal, but a great place to start is with your own body and daily schedule.

Get enough sleep. We adjust to chronic sleep deprivation and don’t realize how much it weighs on us. According to one study, a bad night’s sleep was one of the top two factors that upset people’s daily moods at work (along with tight work deadlines — another problem many lawyers face). It’s tempting to stay up late, especially if that’s the fun part of your day, but the morning comes fast. (Here are some sleep tips.)

Get some exercise—preferably outside. You don’t have to train for a marathon. Just go for a ten-minute walk at lunchtime. People who exercise are healthier, more energetic, think more clearly, sleep better, feel cheerier, and perform better at work. (Here are some tips for sticking to an exercise routine.)

More happiness pointers, after the jump.

Manage pain and discomfort. Don’t let yourself get too hungry, too hot, or too cold (which could be a challenge depending on your office air conditioning). Deal with a headache. If you suffer from chronic pain, take steps to address it. Adjust your desk chair. Remind yourself to drop your shoulders as you work. Use a phone headset (which many transactional lawyers do already).

Control the cubicle in your pocket. This is really tough. We all struggle to put proper boundaries on technology. Can you disconnect for a few hours each day, so you can do deep thinking or spend time with your family? Can you take one day off each weekend? Can you turn off sound alerts or vibration on your Blackberry, so you’re not prompted constantly to check?

Take control of your physical environment. A messy office seems like a minor hurdle to happiness, but people are surprisingly affected by their physical environments. Being surrounded by clutter drains you – not to mention the time you waste looking for stuff.

Now, ask the bigger questions….

Of course, if you’re extremely unhappy at work, changing little things may help, but it’s not going to cure your unhappiness. To think about how to be happier, it’s important not just to complain, “I hate my job,” but to identify why. When we take time to identify a problem exactly, a possible solution becomes clearer.

  • Are you bored by what you do and think about all day?

  • Do you feel so out of control of your time that you can’t make plans to do anything non-work-related, so you never have any fun?
  • Do you feel that your work isn’t meaningful?
  • Do you dislike the people with whom you work?
  • Is your routine draining you?
  • Do you feel pasty-faced, out of shape, and disconnected with everything outside your office walls?
  • Are you haunted by a non-law, unfulfilled dream of another career?
  • Do you feel like you never see your family?
  • Do you feel trapped by debt?

Be as specific as you can be. Once you’ve identified the problem, ask yourself what small step – and start small – you could take to fix it. What little piece of information could you acquire? What person could you talk to? Could you propose that that two-hour weekly meeting be held bi-weekly? Could you bring lunch from home instead of eating out, to eat more healthfully and save money? Could you do some pro bono work?

Understanding the root of unhappiness is a key to understanding what needs to change.

The Happiness Project [Amazon]

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

Feel free to check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, or join the Happiness Project Facebook page.

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