Home Concepts Strategy Coaching in Legal Institutions Happiness is an Option for Lawyers: Creating Success and Fulfillment in Work and Life

Happiness is an Option for Lawyers: Creating Success and Fulfillment in Work and Life

27 min read

Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, suggests that lawyer imbalance, and therefore unhappiness, has three causes:

1. Lawyers are pessimistic and are rewarded for their pessimism
2. Young lawyers have jobs with a lot of pressure and low decision latitude.
The result may be poor health and low morale.
3.  The practice of law is to some extent a zero-sum game.

Seligman claims it is easy to remedy the problems of pessimism and low decision latitude by learning “flexible optimism” and in-house firm training and mentoring programs to address systemic issues.  Seligman believes that the win-lose adversarial legal process might be a significantly more difficult problem to solve. More focus on mediation and negotiation may provide some relief.

Balance is about integrating the needs and wants of our personal and work lives. A number of attorneys I have coached have expressed the desire to spend more time with their families or other priorities than constantly striving for recognition, status, and money. Balancing your personal and professional life requires making different decisions based on clear values and a life plan.

There are many outstanding lawyers who are happy, functional, and able to integrate their professional and personal lives. In order to convert professional success into personal happiness, you need to leverage your successes and strengths.

Optimism: Why It Matters So Much

“Success is measured by your ability to maintain enthusiasm between failures.”
— Sir Winston Churchill

Mahatma Gandhi, Norman Cousins, Helen Keller, Christopher Reeves and Thomas Edison are just a few names that come to mind in a discussion about optimism and success.

People who are considered successful in life measure high on assessments of optimistic attitudes. It would be easy to presume they are optimistic because they are successful, but there is enough research to show that the optimism comes first.

Traditional wisdom puts forth the idea that to be successful, you must have two things:
1. Talent or aptitude
2. Motivation
More recent research shows that a third element contributes strongly to success:
3. An optimistic attitude, particularly in the face of adversity.
High scores for optimism are predictive of excellence in everything from sports to health, elections and sales.

Dr. Martin Seligman has shown that optimists not only do better educationally and in their careers, they also enjoy superior health and longevity. In one study of 96 men who had their first heart attack in 1980, 15 of the 16 most pessimistic men died of a second heart attack within eight years, but only five of the 16 most optimistic men died.

You can’t effectively manage your time, your career, or your life, without personal leadership guided by what matters most.

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