How to be Happy
This article has been provided by LawCare – health support and advice for lawyers
Are you happy in your work? With hundreds of distressed and desperately unhappy lawyers calling LawCare’s helpline each year, it’s easy for us to assume that all lawyers are struggling with stress, drinking to blot out the pain or being made miserable by office bullies.
Does legal practice make you unhappy? Maybe it’s because of the necessity of taking a pessimistic view and pointing out to your client everything that might possibly go wrong with their house purchase. Maybe it’s drafting wills for people considering their own mortality. Maybe it’s spending a lot of time with people at the most distressing time in their lives – when their marriages are breaking down, or they’ve been arrested. Whatever the reason, surveys seem to show that lawyers are less satisfied with their work and their lives than the rest of the population. In one US poll, seven out of ten respondents said that they would not be a lawyer if they could start their lives over again.
And the problems start right from the beginning. In an Australian survey, 35.4% of law students reported high distress or very high distress, compared with 17.8% of medical students and 13.3% of the general population.
Of course, sometimes it’s natural and normal to be unhappy. If you’ve suffered a bereavement, if you’re dealing with chronic pain or relationship difficulties, then no amount of trying to force you to smile is going to raise your mood. If you’re under stress, then it is also quite natural and normal to be short-tempered and unhappy, and the most important factor in restoring your happiness is likely to be dealing with the stress. However, if your unhappiness and listlessness seem to be lasting a long time or are unrelated to a recent traumatic event, see your GP in case this is a symptom of clinical depression.
So these factors aside, how can lawyers increase their happiness? The Australian survey showed that the two things essential for mental wellbeing are personal autonomy (the ability to make decisions for yourself), and social connection (having key people in your life, primarily family and community groups). Although many lawyers have far more personal autonomy than those in menial or entry-level jobs, they can often score low on social connection compared to other professions, and can tend to be isolated. Middle-aged men who work from home are at particular risk. So spending time with supportive family and friends, joining clubs and groups, or simply chatting to neighbours can make a big difference.
The Lawyer magazine, in conjuction with YouGov, asked over 2,000 lawyers what would make them happier at work. 82 per cent of Associates identified that flexible working schemes were the best way to keep them happy. And higher pay doesn’t necessarily make for happier employees either – a third of men and 45% of women said that they would take a pay cut in return for a better quality of life and better work/life balance.
A US survey, recently quoted by the American Bar Association, showed that men are 25 percent happier at work than women, and 8 percent happier at home. They are also 35 percent more likely than women to take breaks “just to relax” and 25 percent more likely to take breaks for personal activities. Women, who often feel that the obligations of housework and childcare fall on them, are far less likely to take breaks for themselves, and this perhaps leads to their lower happiness score.
The survey also reported that:
- Sixty-eight percent of happy people take breaks during the work day, compared to 41 percent of unhappy people.
- Eighty-nine percent of happy people leave work at a reasonable hour, compared to 49 percent of unhappy people.
- Ninety-three percent of happy people take holidays, compared to 79 percent of unhappy people.
So how can you be happy? Ensure you have personal autonomy and good social connections. Make time to take breaks, both at work and at home. Leave work at a reasonable time and take holidays. Don’t just ignore it – identify and deal with the causes of stress in your life. Don’t drink too much (alcohol is a depressant) and see your GP if your unhappiness is lingering or overwhelming.
And if that still does not work, LawCare offers free and completely confidential advice and support by way of a 365 day a year helpline,
Their free and completely confidential helpline is open 365 days a year, from 9.00 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. on weekdays and 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. on 0800 279 6888.
There is also a comprehensive website at www.lawcare.org.uk