Why Can’t I Be Happy? People Would Kill to Make the Money I Do

I spent years thinking this very thought. I never got any happier practicing law by thinking it. Yet, so many lawyers drive themselves insane — and keep their souls sick — with this line of alleged reasoning.

Here’s why you’ll never convince yourself to be happy just because you make a lot of dough: once human beings have their physical needs met and are no longer in danger of either needing lunch or being something’s lunch, they need their emotional needs to be met. It’s called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow gets knocked for studying only high-achieving people, but since we’re dealing here with frustrated, high-achieving lawyers, it maps well.

I know you’re thinking one of several things:

  • I can’t quit, my family depends on my income;
  • I can’t do what I want to do because I’d make no money doing it;
  • I can’t do anything that I genuinely like because I have a brief due/have a looming deal that’s consuming every waking hour/have to meet my billable targets and I’m way the hell behind.

Or some variation.

Here’s the thing: Lawyers are the unchallenged masters of black-and-white thinking. On the other hand, life rarely cooperates by being truly black or white. Lasting change comes incrementally, not in grand Hollywood sweeps. So instead of focusing so much energy on why you are so stuck and cannot escape, I’d invite you to put your energy into finding one small thing that you would enjoy spending your time on. I’m talking ten minutes to a half hour.

Maybe listen to some of Joshua Bell’s amazing, unrecognized performance in Washington one chilly winter day? How about dropping by an art supply store and lingering for 15 minutes, just to look at all the tools you never knew existed? Why not check out the fiction section of your local bookstore (not Amazon, a real, live bookstore. With, yanno, people in it)? Check out a farmer’s market. If none of these ideas appeal, think up one that does. They key is a small amount of time, and something FUN, that will bring you a small measure of joy. Ten minutes of happiness is a helluva lot better than none.

We’ll talk next time about how hard it was to let yourself do this.


Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer  who makes less money than she used to, but she doesn’t have therapy bills any more. She coaches unhappy lawyers on how to be happy, whether it’s in a law job or an alternative legal career. You can try a discounted, career coaching sample session with her by emailing jalvey@jenniferalvey.com.

One thought on “Why Can’t I Be Happy? People Would Kill to Make the Money I Do

  1. Pingback: BigLaw Associates Happy? Puh-leez « Leaving the Law

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