Developing a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Are you happy? It sounds like a simple question, but it is a surprisingly difficult one for many people to answer. We all have multi-faceted lives and being happy in one area of our lives may or may not correlate to being happy in another.
Work is an area where many people find the concept of “happiness” more complex, if not difficult. Indeed, there is a popular idea in our culture that most lawyers are dissatisfied with their work, but in fact studies show that 79-80% of all lawyers enjoy their work.1 Rather than being at the bottom of the list regarding job satisfaction, lawyers were close to the middle, ranking lower than clergy and firefighters but higher than roofers and laborers. In fact, lawyers were very close to accountants.2 I leave it to you to decide what that means.
Regardless of our occupations, we are all subject to good and bad days. While we might know that to be true logically, social media can make it seem as though others are enjoying life more than us and that can have the effect of making us even less happy.3
A few months ago I took an online happiness quiz and scored a 71 out of 100 for my “happiness quotient”. The areas they said I needed to work on were to relax more, play more and smile more. That is easier said than done, but I have been trying over the past few months to achieve a better work life balance and I think it is working. Here are a few suggestions:
Let go of the baggage
Stop reliving past wrongs. If we have been wronged – forgive and forget and move on. Letting go of past hurts can be extremely powerful. If we have wronged someone else – talk to those we offended and make it right. Taking responsibility for our actions is also extremely powerful.
Even at work we can choose to move toward a less antagonistic stance. For example, in litigation it is easy to pick a fight. Resist that urge and instead show kindness. The disarming effect on your opponent will amaze you.
Spend time in your place of serenity
We all have places we like to go where we feel peace. It could be your home, nature, your place of worship or sanctuary. Wherever it is, go there as often as you can.
Many years ago as a young attorney I contemplated getting out of the law completely. In my place of serenity I was able to clear the clutter from my mind and see my path more clearly. In my case, the answer was to stick with my job, but to keep green, living things near me to remind me of the beauty of nature and to brighten my office and make it a less sterile place to be. So I bought some plants and put them close to my desk at work. I made it through and I still have those plants in my office.
We need to take time to unwind and study after study has touted the psychological and physical benefits of exercise for managing stress and increasing happiness.4 Exercise in whatever way brings you joy – sign up for gym membership, ride your bike or walk your dog. For the past 48 years I have jogged most weekday mornings. My pace is slower now but I still do it. I listen to inspirational music or talks on my iPhone. My day is always better when I start out with my morning run.
Spend some time helping others
Something good happens to us when we lose ourselves in the service of others. Last year I spent an hour in the Lawyers in the Library program.5 The elderly man I was helping recently lost his wife and had a few questions about the estate. It was outside my field of expertise but I pointed him in the right direction. His emotions were on the surface and so were mine. I felt energized after that.
If Lawyers in the Library does not sound like something that you would enjoy, the CCCBA has many pro bono opportunities, allowing for a wide variety of options to best suit your skills and interests.6
Work on hobbies and relationship skills
After over two decades spent raising our six children, my wife Candace and I recently became empty nesters. It is a big change, but one we are embracing. Our lives are less focused on our children and we now have time to go back to hobbies we once enjoyed. We ride our bikes together in the evenings after work. I bought a new amp for my guitar. Candace is practicing the piano again. We are also finding new and better ways to communicate with each other. All of these things enrich our lives and make us both happier people.
In my view finding happiness is not optional – it is essential. It is the key to our emotional survival in this crazy, stressful world. There will always be something that is not perfect in our lives but we can be happy even while we are having a bad day, or week or year. We may need to work at it but as we pursue it, happiness will be ours to claim.
The views expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer State Farm.
Jerome M. Organ, “What Do We Know About the Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction of Lawyers? A Meta-Analysis of Research on Lawyer Satisfaction and Well-Being”, 8 U. St. Thomas L.J. 225 (2011), p. 263.
Chambers, David L. “Overstating the Satisfaction of Lawyers” Law & Soc. Inquiry (20130: 1-21, p.1-2.