Work-Life Balance

Gratitude Researcher Says Lawyers Are a Difficult Crowd


What makes a grateful person?

Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis explains with a joke, the Lawyers Wellbeing Blog reports. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The pessimist sees the glass as half empty. The grateful person is happy to have a glass.

But what about lawyers, who may be called on to represent the half-full person or perhaps analyze the legal ramifications if the glass is broken?

Emmons has spoken to lawyers before, and it was a difficult experience. According to the Lawyers Wellbeing Blog, Emmons admitted during a break in an October lecture that he had never encountered a bunch of people so resistant to gratitude, except perhaps for teenagers.

“Why was that?” the blog says. “Possibly because some of the main obstacles to being grateful are fears of dependence, indebtedness, and loss of control. Lawyers are people who emphasize self-control and self-reliance. They don’t want to cede control to others or owe anybody anything. It may also have to do with lawyers being called upon to face and solve problems all day long. When all you think about are problems it’s harder to feel grateful.”

Emmons and a colleague, Hofstra University professor Jeffrey Froh, studied high school students and found that those who were most grateful had more friends and higher grades, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Those who were most materialistic, on the other hand, had lower grades, higher levels of envy and less satisfaction with life. Their study is set to be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Happiness Studies.

A previous study by Emmons shows that students who had to list things that made them grateful felt better about their life. Gratitude demands “self-reflection, the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and the humility to realize one’s own limitations,” Emmons told the Wall Street Journal.

Dechert’s director of associate development, Molly Peckman, noted the post by the Lawyers Wellbeing Blog in an article published by the Legal Intelligencer. She recalls how Thanksgiving was always her favorite holiday, and says lawyers should be proud of their profession because they can change and even save lives.

“I realize some readers may be unemployed and other lawyers are not happy in their jobs,” Peckman writes. “You still have plenty of reasons to give thanks for what you do have. Not everyone has the opportunities to go to college and law school, and not everyone possesses the abilities to read, to argue, to counsel and to negotiate. While not all of us are millionaires, most of us are comfortable, and we should not take our comforts, or our health and welfare, for granted.”

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