striving toward contentment
After I attended my Continuing Legal Education class in the ice-cold conference room late last week, I still needed two hours of CLE to complete my requirements for the year. Thank heavens the Texas State Bar offers online classes, and so after browsing through their selections, I settled on a class with an intriguing title, Fitness to Practice: Balancing Life and Livelihood. Saturday morning, after breakfast, I settled into my office with a hot cup of tea and began watching.
It was an excellent course (and I strongly recommend any Texas attorney who needs to get their CLE hours take it), but it began rather grimly, with some pretty dismaying statistics related to the state of (un)happiness by members of the bar:
- up to 26% of lawyers in the U.S. experience depression (vs. 3-9% of the general population)
- 33.3% of surveyed lawyers in Florida said they feel depressed once per week (apologies, but I don't have the source of this statistic)
- over 11% of surveyed attorneys in North Carolina consider taking their own lives once a month
Isn't that horrifying? The sad thing is that lawyers aren't even the people who have it the worst -- apparently physicians have the highest suicide rate compared to people in any other line of work.
The course finished up on a really positive note, including tips for how attorneys could bring more balance into their professional and personal lives; however, the statistics stayed with me for the rest of the weekend. I mean, I really don't think that lawyers are singular -- there have to be tons of people out there who are in stressful jobs and are feeling trapped. And the thought of so many people being unhappy in their lives, well ...
... no. Just no.
See the thing is, if there is anything that my life has taught me in the last two years, it is this:
We were not put on this Earth to be unhappy.
Understand: I'm not saying "we were not put on this Earth to avoid dealing with unhappy things." Of course we're going to encounter sadness, or depression, or grief, or bad jobs, or bad relationships or even soul-sucking careers. Sometimes these situations will require us to just walk away. Other times we'll be called to rise above them. Even others might require clinical intervention. But I do think, in all instances, we are meant to do whatever it takes to strive toward contentment. And I think, in the end, for all of us, this takes conscious, focused, daily diligence.
The second half of the course gave some ideas on how to make this happen (and heavily referenced a book written specifically for attorneys who crave balance, called Transforming Practices), but ultimately, it all boiled down to having a practice of taking care of yourself first.
So I thought I'd share some things that have worked for me in the past, and invite you to share your daily practices that help you stay centred and balanced. Because, I figure that we could all use the inspiration, and as Plato says, we are all fighting a hard battle.
1. I started a daily gratitude practice. My friend Brené maintains that there can never be joy without gratitude, and I couldn't agree more. I've always had a practice of saying prayers every night before I go to bed; about 15 years ago, I started a practice of ending my prayers by thinking of one good thing that I was grateful for that happened during the day. The practice helped me through a dark time in my life, so I strongly recommend it: just think about 1 good thing that happened during your day. Keep a pad of paper next to your bed to jot it down, if that will help. Once you start to notice the good things in your life on a daily basis, contentment is sure to grow.
2. I found something I enjoyed doing that was just for me. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, writes about "comfort activities" -- things you do that have the calming equivalent of a nice hot bowl of noodle soup, or mac-and-cheese. For her, it's reading children's books. Originally, of course, for me it was photography, and it's the only thing I still do most consistently every day. But over time, I've come up with other things I enjoy -- knitting is one (although I don't do this daily), journaling (which I attempt to do daily), and lately -- get this -- doodling.
See, I recently got a copy of The Diary of Frida Kahlo, and I've been pouring through it. What's struck me (other than the fact that Frida is far more profound than I could ever be) is how imperfect her sketches are in her journal -- they're smeared, there are ink spots, there are spills -- and they all add to the "realness" of her journal. So I decided that perhaps I would try adding some sketches to my own journal -- after all, no one is suppose to see my travesties to art, right?
Then I remembered my friend Lu telling me about zentangling -- this way of doodling that they claim gives feelings of "timelessness, freedom and wellbeing" -- so I decided to give it a shot, sort of ease my way int o sketching. But the thing is, I love it. My doodles aren't anything as elaborate as theirs, but it's definitely fun, and it's definitely calming.
Also, my journal is a bit more interesting.
3. Meditate, exercise, etc. -- Of course, meditation and exercise are a great way to take care of yourself and carve out time just for you. I'm trying to do this more often, but more importantly, I'm trying not to beat myself up if I don't do it every day, which is actually the harder thing to do. But still, I try.
I've mentioned before that I think a daily practice is important, but that it doesn't have to be the same practice each day. I still believe this. Because I think the point of all of this is that constant striving for contentment.
So again, feel free to share your practices, below, for all of us to share.
(One more statistic: according to the presenters, appropriate treatment can help 95% of people suffering from depression. If you think you might be suffering from depression, please consider getting some help.)
Image: Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm lens