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Should Lawyers Be Happy?

Should lawyers Be “Happy”?

Looking for meaning in our work may be far more important and the key to contentment in our profession.

In a recent article on, Kate Mangan makes a compelling argument that lawyers should accept some level of negativity in their lives as essential, and even useful, to the practice of law. Rather than focusing on being happy, Mangan suggests that lawyers should, instead, begin a search for meaning in their work.

Agreed! Too many times we chase the dream of a life without negativity or challenge as though that is the path to happiness. And, in doing so, we miss both the point of life and the opportunity to serve that comes with the practice of law. When we ignore the significance of meaning, we deny ourselves the opportunity to live at the highest level.

At the Professional Compass, we define Happiness as the relationship between resource inputs (time, emotion, effort) and current outputs and life states (money earned, perceived financial security, health). This definition is the one generally supported in the field of “Happiness Economics” which studies the relationship between these factors and reported happiness. In short, the large body of social science research confirms generally that “more” will not make you “happier”.

Happiness, within the Professional Compass framework, combines with Fulfillment (using your skills fully and productively) and Excellence (moving yourself forward to higher levels of Fulfillment and Happiness) to combine to form the three necessary elements of Satisfaction. And, too many times, we are willing to accept continuing Satisfaction as the end-state of our legal careers.

Adding Meaning turns mere Satisfaction into a higher state of being, one we refer to as Contentment. And, experience teaches that Meaning comes only from doing something for someone other than yourself. Adding Meaning can come from finding meaningful work: leaving private practice for the local not-for-profit would be a potential example. But, many times, the steps need not be so drastic.

Given our significant roles in society, opportunities abound to touch the lives of people in ways that matter, to find meaning without changing jobs or careers. For me, an estate planner, meaning can come simply from helping families deal with the practicalities of the death of a loved one. Or, an a deeper level, our work often places us in the role of family mediators, helping to address issues between family members that sometimes have remained unresolved for years. One might not suspect that even the most simple probate could offer opportunities to find meaning. But, having looked, I know that they are there.

Imagine the meaning to be found in a disputed family law matter. Is it meaningful to help a young business person expand her means of livelihood and create new jobs in her community? Surely the neighbors fighting over a condition that impacts their daily lives will find a positive resolution meaningful.

Can these be difficult situations? Are they often laced with negativity? Of course. But in dealing with the negative and helping others at the same time, we will find Meaning. And, adding that Meaning to our Satisfaction derives our Contentment as lawyers: understanding that our life’s work transcends the momentary and transitory pleasure of “happiness” to provide us a deeper and richer life than that available to those in many different career paths.

So, let’s stop worrying about being happy. And, as Kate Mangan so eloquently suggests, let’s get about finding the Meaning in our lives that comes from using our unique skills and professional opportunities to make a calling of helping someone other than ourselves.

Read the full text of Kate Mangan’s wonderful piece here:

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