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What Military Training Can Teach ‘Catastrophizing’ Lawyers About Happiness

Posted Aug 25, 2010 8:52 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Happiness researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are working with the U.S. Army to teach soldiers how they can bounce back from the stress of deployment in a war zone. Those lessons also can apply to lawyers, says one of the school's experts, lawyer Dan Bowling.

Writing for the Careerist blog, Bowling lists 10 happiness tips for lawyers, many of them lessons developed for the military training. Army officials are concerned about rising suicide rates and posttraumatic stress disorder, according to a University of Pennsylvania press release, so it is working with the university to train service members in resilience. One of the lessons is to avoid "catastrophizing," defined in the press release as a tendency to imagine and fret about worst-case scenarios.

Bowling takes that lesson to lawyers, whose pessimistic traits are correlated with success as early as law school. “Start by challenging your own thoughts,” he advises in his Careerist article. “Pessimists develop negative thinking patterns, such as believing that a bad outcome is a career ender. Optimists perceive every setback as temporary.”

A few of Bowling’s other tips:

• People are happiest when their jobs play to their strengths. “f you are a happy-go-lucky extrovert, try to avoid spending 10 years doing discovery requests,” he says.

• Keep your perspective. “The universe doesn’t revolve around you and your worries,” Bowling writes. “If you aren’t in the top half of your class, it's not the end of the world, although it might seem like it when first-year grades come out. If you don’t make partner, life will go on.”

• Be sociable and thankful. Keep in contact with friends and express gratitude to those who matter.

Related coverage:

Philadelphia Inquirer: "The power of a positive thinker"

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