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The Pursuit Of Happiness

The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, declares that, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights we all possess. "Life"? Check. "Liberty"? A bit more complicated, but I think I get it. "The pursuit of happiness"?That is a whole lot more complicated.

March 20 is International Happiness Day, and it is also the date that the World Happiness Report is published by a committee appointed by the United Nations. Spoiler alert: Happiness in the United States has been steadily declining, and is currently 19 out of 156 countries studied in the Report.

Specific to the legal profession, of the 46 speakers who addressed the recent World Happiness Summit ("WOHASU") this year, not one of the speakers was a lawyer, or even someone affiliated with a law firm--not a single one. Knock me over with a feather (not)!

According to a lot of philosophers, scientists, and more recently, Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth (who recorded a much-watched TED talk on the subject), we are not most happy when we acquire external things, but rather, when we connect with internal things--not happy news (pun intended) for a profession built upon the value of advice to others in the business of acquiring, defending, manufacturing or regulating external (tangible) things.

We are most happy when we are living in the moment, not when we are living somewhere else--when our minds are wandering to something that happened in the past, or something that may happen in the future. Sound like mindfulness? Maybe a moment of meditation? A moment of stillness, in the middle of a typical day when we are juggling multiple thoughts or tasks--client concerns, firm issues, family demands or personal priorities?

Is there really any time for happiness, or stillness, in the course of a typical day? A lot of us seriously ask ourselves that question. Is there a connection between personal happiness and professional necessity? If so, who should bear the responsibility for making, or sustaining, such a connection? Is cultivating circumstances that may contribute to personal happiness the responsibility of our law institutions? Lots of questions.

But those are the kinds of questions that leaders ask. And those are the kinds of questions that leaders try to answer. The American Bar Association ("ABA") has made lawyer well-being a priority, and most of us would agree that concern is both appropriate, and necessary. Isn't lawyer happiness essentially the same thing? Well-being and happiness are both peas in the same pod.

Just ask Martin E. P. Seligman--psychiatrist and founder of the Positive Psychology movement. If you're interested in learning more. I highly recommend his book entitled FLOURSH: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. I also recommend The Art Of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, co-authored by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, M.D. And, finally, Real Happiness, by Sharon Salzburg.

Whether you're a fan of Jefferson of any of the others, both well-being and the pursuit of happiness are important to all of us. So are (I believe) mindfulness and meditation. They're all interconnected.

What do you think?


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