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Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive

It's a classic song that was published almost 80 years ago, and has been covered by too many singers to name, but I'll mention one who really stands out: the great Ella Fitzgerald. And the song's underlying message is timeless.

Hearing that song recently, I was reminded of a tremendous webinar I attended, sponsored by AwareHealth and given by Anne Brafford-- a wonderful woman, an accomplished lawyer and student of a relatively new school of psychology known as Positive Psychology. The topic of discussion was whether/how positive psychology could benefit lawyers, and it was a thought-provoking event.

Query: What can positive psychology teach us about lawyers, and what can it teach us about well-being (of which mindfulness and meditation can be important components)? Not surprisingly, I learned that, that "ankle bone" is very much connected to the "leg bone"!

Some aspects of what us lawyers share behaviorally may be genetic, but a lot of our behavior is also learned and in founding what has come to be known as positive psychology, Martin Seligman came up with an acronym that helps us remember the pillars of that school of thought: PERMA. "P" stands for positive emotion, "E" represents engagement, "R" stands for relationships, "M" for meaning and "A" for accomplishment.

The science and literature behind the PERMA acronym is extensive, and growing-- it is not about Pollyannish, blind optimism. As applied to lawyers, Ms, Brafford summed it up by describing lawyers and the practice of law as, "a habit of thought". Not surprisingly, much of that habit-- much of that thought-- revolves around negativity. For many of us lawyers, the glass always seems to be half empty. We're always balancing the best possible outcome, with the worst possible likelihood.

How can we balance out the negativity bias, or the tendency to catastrophize, that we lawyers tend to carry with us? Positive psychology teaches that we begin by embracing a realistic optimism. It's a mind shift, or an attitude adjustment that can enable us to to do our jobs competently and ethically, without abandoning ourselves to the ash heap of pessimism.

So that's a bit about positive psychology and lawyers-- what about positive psychology and well-being? For me, positive psychology and well-being are pretty much one and the same. The two circles tend to overlap, a lot-- they're two peas, one might say, in the same pod.

As Martin Seligman has said-- often and repeatedly-- positive psychology should not be confused with a smiley face. I think the same can be said of well-being. Of course we need to attend responsibly to the negative, but we mustn't forget to also ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive. And don't mess around with Mr. In-between!


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