Three tips for kickstarting 2020 a happier lawyer!

12th Dec 2019

It’s that beautiful time of year when most of the working world is about to be on holidays, the sun is shining and our days are soon to be our own – no routines or rushing to work and hours to do nothing if you choose. All in all, it is a time when most of us find it easy to be ‘happy’. But as the silly season fades and the new work year begins you might be asking, ‘How can I keep this happy holiday glow’?

Wellness and the law is a topic I am deeply passionate about. Having myself had to overcome what I call ‘unhappiness’, I now spend a lot of my time exploring wellness, happiness and even joy in legal practice. Having researched the science of happiness and published my book, Happy Lawyer Happy Life, I have come to learn that with some thought and effort there are things we can all do to be ‘happier’ in law.

As you start throwing around new year resolutions for 2020, why not toss these three 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 and 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.

Many of us lawyers 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 look back on our lives and thank 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 four pages is now titled ‘Look at all the great things I get to do’! 

So here is my 2020 challenge to you – every time you catch yourself saying ‘I have to …’ change the words to ‘I get to …’ and let me know the result!

3. Make 2020 the year of the ‘thank you’

As human beings, we need social connection. We need friends, family and support around us. Our brain is hardwired to be part of a larger 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 2020 the year of saying ‘thank you’ to all the people that matter to you! In 2017 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 handwritten card goes a long way. In 2020 find your way of saying ‘thank you’ and do it every day.

Just what amounts to happiness is different for all of us but there are some common themes – a feeling of contentment, a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning. Many studies have shown that being ‘happy’ improves all aspects of our lives. The University of Berkeley’s ‘Greater Good Science Centre’ – one of the world’s leading ‘happiness research centres’ – reports that happy people:

  • are healthier;
  • have improved relationships with others;
  • are more productive at work;
  • cope better with stress; and
  • are more creative.

So why wouldn’t we all want to be happier lawyers!

Clarissa Rayward is probably best known as a divorce lawyer and the owner of Brisbane Family Law Centre. She specialises in assisting her clients to experience a dignified divorce – staying away from the court process and finding sustainable agreements for the future. More recently, Clarissa has begun to tackle the challenging issue of unhappiness in the legal profession through her 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 she published her second book, 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. In October 2019, Clarissa won 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).

Learn about how you can get involved and contribute an article

Tags: Lawyers with Depression Lawyers Mental health Clarissa Rayward