As I looked around this blog considering what to write (cool blog!), I began to think about why we are interested in increasing productivity. Ultimately, I realized, we are interested in being more productive because we think that, by doing so, we can get more of what we want in life. In other words, in spite of the challenges of law, we want to thrive – that overall sense that life is good in spite of the challenges (or maybe because of them).

There are some wrong turns we can take on the path to thriving, and one of them is to focus on making more money. In other words, we could believe:

More productivity = More money = Greater Thriving

Wrong! Research on well-being, what makes us happy, what gives us that sense of thriving in life has produced some pretty compelling evidence that beyond a fairly modest base, money makes little difference. However, most people get this point intuitively without the research. Try this. Imagine a lawyer with a household income of $80,000 who describes his or her life as follows:

I wouldn’t say my days are black, but they are certainly gray – dark gray. I don’t look forward to my work and I do not like the people I work with. My marriage is a disappointment and a source of stress. Mostly I just try to ignore stuff and get through the day. Alcohol helps some, but I know I can’t let it take over. I don’t sleep well, and in the morning it all starts again.”

Imagine that lawyer being offered a glimpse down two possible paths five years into the future. In one, he or she works on making more money, and is very successful, but ends up with the same basic description of life. In the other, he or she works directly on increased thriving and is also very successful and, without earning any more money, describes life as follows:

My life is full of good stuff. I enjoy my work and can easily lose track of time when I am there. I have co-workers who are among my best friends and the energy and camaraderie at work is great. My spouse and I really know and care about each other and we enjoy working toward common goals. I feel really connected to my community through a number of organizations, and I think I’m making a difference. I’m very grateful for all the good things in my life.

Which path do you think that lawyer will take? What about you, if you were offered that choice, how much money would it take to get you to choose to take the money and stay with the same description of life?

But, you may ask, does anyone know how to work directly on thriving? Is it really possible to go from the first description to the second description with any amount of work? If not, might as well make money!

Yes. We now know a set of skills that you can practice and master that can produce:

  • Realistic, pragmatic optimism
  • Effective hope
  • Strengths-based engagement
  • Practical emotional intelligence
  • Improved relationships
  • Clearer purpose and meaning
  • Reduced pressure toward perfectionism
  • Higher levels of positive emotion
  • Lower levels of negative emotion
  • A general sense of moving forward toward valued goals in many areas of life.

Oh, and yes, these skills ALSO improve productivity!

References:
1. Happiness Is Love – and $75,000
2. Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Diener, E. and Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Blackwell Publishing Ltd.: Malden, MA) – especially Chapter 6, “Can Money Buy Happiness?”
3. The High Price of Materialism, Kasser, T. (2002). The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

About the Author:
Dave Shearon, JD, MAPP, is President of Thriving Lawyers Institute, a not-for-profit organization focused on education and training for lawyers to meet the unique challenges to well-being inherent in the practice of law. He teaches thriving skills to audiences as diverse as US Army sergeants, law students in the US and Israel, MBA students, aspiring principals, serving school superintendents, and school faculty. He is co-author of Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience, and Relationships in Youth (Cogent Publishing, 2011). Learn more about Dave and the skills of thriving at thrivinglawyers.org, or follow on Twitter, @thrivinglawyers.