Happiness is an inside job

10th Sep 2020

Today is R U OK?Day, which is a wonderful initiative and reminder to take the time to really check in with those around us. As a lawyer who has experienced her own challenges with unhappiness, the significance of this day is not lost on me and I reflect on it each year with a new sense of understanding of its importance in our lives.  

I am a divorce lawyer and wellness advocate who is commonly known as the ‘Happy Family Lawyer’. My own struggles with unhappiness led to my research on finding happiness in law, and eventually to my podcast Happy Lawyer Happy Life. This podcast explores how we can all find a positive way to be great lawyers while having a great life. Each week I am joined by other lawyers who have had success, overcome challenges, and found happiness in their careers.

Recently I was joined by solicitor Dean Spanner who has been practising law for almost 30 years. This interview features a truly wonderful conversation about life and how we can ensure successful careers in law that also prioritise the things that matter – for Dean, it is his relationships with his family, children, friends and colleagues.

This discussion goes to the core of what being a ‘happy lawyer’ is all about. The two key ingredients that Dean mentions – health and relationships – are the foundation of any successful and happy legal career.

In her book The How of Happiness, positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky described happiness as the experience of joy, contentment, or positive wellbeing, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.’

Sonja found that roughly 50% of happiness is determined by our genes, 10% by our life circumstances, and 40% by our daily activities. We may not be able to tamper with our genes, and our life circumstances are often out of our immediate control too, but I love that 40% of our personal happiness is entirely affected by how we choose to spend our days and who we choose to spend them with (the who is important!).

As humans, we need social connection – friends, family and support. My study of the science of happiness continues to show me the same thing over and over again: 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 Harvard research makes it really simple – good relationships (and it is quality that really matters) keep us happier, healthier and are key to helping us live longer.

My conversation with Dean brought this idea home for me. He speaks about making his relationships an absolute priority in his life. Dean was an advocate for and walking example of work-life balance before it was even a thing. At 28, Dean implemented a work-from-home arrangement so that he could be with his kids shortly after becoming a new dad and he has maintained the same routine to this day. It was Dean’s mindset, perspective and spirituality that I found intriguing in our conversation and which I think we can all take inspiration from. He’s a great example that with hard work and clarity around what brings joy to your life, you can live a successful life in and outside of the law.

So today, as we take time to ask those closest to us ‘R U OK?’, let’s also remind ourselves how grateful we are for those people. Bring those relationships to the forefront of our minds and above all, be kind. And while you’re at it, check out my podcast with Dean Spanner above and my other interviews here.

Clarissa Rayward is a divorce lawyer and owner of Brisbane Family Law Centre. She specialises in assisting her clients to experience a dignified divorce. She published her second book in 2017, How to the be Happy in Law and Life and launched the first ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life’ online course helping lawyers better understand how they can drive happiness in their careers. Clarissa is the winner of the inaugural 2019 Minds Count Award for Individual Leadership in Legal Mental Wellbeing.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: Mental health General legal practice