May being mental health month, it seemed appropriate last week for the New York Times to run an article on well-being in the legal profession. The article focused on a new study of 6200 lawyers. The study asked these lawyers about their jobs, their health and their general well being. One of the more remarkable findings of the report was that there was no correlation between the typical metrics of attorney success (income, partnership, etc.) and lawyer happiness. To the contrary, according to the findings in the study, those lawyers making the least amount of money were the most likely to report being happy.
While I used the word “remarkable” above to describe this finding, the study only confirms the notion that money doesn’t make us happy. That’s hardly news. Our grandmothers told us that (as well as our Sunday School teachers). The finding seems “remarkable” because (for many of us) the switch got flipped somewhere along the way.
We graduate from law school and land a job and pretty soon we begin to think about success in terms of how quickly we can grab the golden ring. Success is the income that rises well into 6 figures…making partner…becoming a shareholder in the firm and getting our percentage of the profits. Money and status are easily measurable, so they become the best indicators of achievement.
I think about this issue a lot. And about how our notions of “success” relate to the stress and suffering experienced by so many lawyers. One of the things I’ve been trying to do for myself is re-frame the conversation a bit. Money does not make you happy. I get that. But poverty doesn’t make you happy either. For me the big question is what in our lives gives us value and purpose. What are the things that bring us real meaning? How we answer those questions seems to have a lot more to do with how happy we are than our typical metrics for “success.”
Lately, I’ve found it worthwhile to take a cup of coffee and my journal to the back porch and spend some time trying to articulate, in writing, my answers to these questions—knowing that no one else can answer them for me. It’s hard work—to explore those deep parts of myself in an effort to uncover what it is that really brings value to my life and gives it meaning. But I have no doubt it is worth doing.
The problem is trying to find the answers to these questions is only the first step. The next, and much more frightening step, is re-orienting life in such a way that what I do and how I do it serves those values and honors those things that bring my life meaning.
How do I do that?
I’m not exactly sure. I only know that the answer lies somewhere on the other side of a lot more coffee and a lot more early morning journaling sessions.