Unhappy people, maybe especially unhappy lawyers, spend a lot of time and energy avoiding more pain. This avoidance takes many guises, and some of them get a lot of societal approval. Overwork, just to name an example. Staying “in touch” by being glued to your electronic pacifiers, often in the name of work, is another. Gotta know the latest current events to understand a client’s needs, right?
On the one hand, it sounds perfectly rational to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Except that the way most people seek pleasure doesn’t actually bring them pleasure (it just numbs them out). In fact, that act of avoiding pain usually prolongs the pain, and adds anxiety and depression on top of it far too often. It’s like anticipation, but on a downer.
Happiness Comes Rushing In—But Only If . . .
It’s not just me, some crunchy recovering lawyer, who knows this. As I watched an interview clip of Louis C.K. talking to Conan O’Brien, I realized Louis C.K. gets it, too. The entire clip is genius, and I highly recommend watching it, but if you just don’t have time (really?), or will do it later, here’s the super-genius insight (starts at about 4:30):
“You know I got that sad feeling, and I started reaching for the phone, and I said, don’t. Just be sad. . . And I pulled over and I cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. It was just this beautiful—sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has like antibodies. It has happiness that comes rushing in, rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true happiness. It was such a trip.”
But I can hear the doubts from here. “I’ve tried this feeling the pain thing in therapy, and all I feel is empty afterwards. It takes me a long time to shake that. How is that better than watching TV, when I at least get to laugh?”
Good question. Let me suggest that maybe you need to add one more thing, after letting yourself experience your actual emotions. That one thing is gratitude. Now wait, don’t huff off somewhere just yet.
Gratitude, and happiness generally, have been studied quite a bit in the last decade or so. There is an undeniable relationship between those who cultivate gratitude, and those who constantly quest for the missing piece of their life that will magically unlock the happiness gates. Those who are grateful for their imperfect lives, even as they seek to improve those lives, are measurably happier. They are also less depressed and anxious, healthier, more optimistic, and more resilient.
Looking at the evidence, the question quickly becomes, why wouldn’t you do something that takes less than 5 minutes daily to achieve all these benefits?
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.
As my lawyer friend Caitlin Moon explains on her Facebook page, 3 Gratitudes, simply recording ‘everyday epiphanies, called out every day, [changes] forever how you experience life and the world. I post daily, my emphatic effort to change reality, 3 gratitudes at a time.”
So embrace your pain, let it flow through you and exit your soul, then start remembering what you have to be grateful for. Pen and paper are always good for writing down gratitudes, but if you want more accountability, head on over to 3 Gratitudes and record your gratitude there. As an added bonus, you can see what others are grateful for, and maybe even connect with some cool people. That just might make you even more grateful for your own life.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who still needs to practice gratitude, and reminds her unhappy lawyer clients to do the same. If you’d like help figuring out what you have to be grateful for (even if you have a job you loathe), email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org for a discounted sample coaching session.