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How (and why) to cultivate gratitude in your career and life

how to cultivate gratitude within your legal career

As a legal writer, it’s not often that I get to indulge my inner science-nerd, but today seems to be my lucky day. I realize some of you may have looked at the title of this article and are now asking yourselves, “what the heck does science have to do with gratitude?”

The answer, fortunately for all of us, is everything.

I’ll explain.

Before I go too far down that road, however, please allow me to address the ultimate goal of this article; namely to encourage you to begin formally practicing gratitude.

If you can do that, in short order you will find that your career and your life are surprisingly just “better.” Sounds crazy, right? I thought so too…until it happened to me.

So sit back, relax, read the full article and, if you feel compelled to do so, begin a gratitude regimen of your own.

I can almost guarantee that you’ll be grateful you did so.

The science of gratitude

Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a rut?

It happens to most of us at some point in our lives. And for some of us, those ruts become so deep that they manifest in conditions like clinical depression.

Among other things, this sort of depression is characterized by persistent negative thinking that feels impossible to avoid.

Neuroscientists will tell you that the brains of depressed people become so used to negativity that they create pathways which essentially make a person “hardwired” to be sad, depressed, or upset. Once your brain has created those sadness super-highways, it’s awfully hard to find an exit.

This is where we get to talk about two related and amazingly cool concepts: neuroplasticity and gratitude.

Neuroplasticity refers to your brain’s ability to rewire itself in the face of new (but repeated) experiences.

Gratitude is the new (and repeated) activity that can literally rewire your brain away from negativity and toward a place of happiness.

Throw that all together and you have the “science of gratitude,” which boils down to this:

If you make a point to be consciously and intentionally grateful several times a day, your brain will eventually rewire itself so that you are “programmed” to see the world in a positive light.

The good news for legal professionals is that neuroplasticity + gratitude even works when it comes to making your career life seem less daunting.

We all know that the practice of law can be stressful, frustrating, and depressing — in fact, about 20% of lawyers and non-lawyer staff consider suicide at some point in their careers.

So why not try something as simple as gratitude to raise yourself out of the muck?

Here’s how to get started:

Keep a daily gratitude journal

Starting a gratitude journal is the best way to start rewiring your brain (and your life) for happiness.

Unlike simply thinking grateful thoughts, a gratitude journal is tangible evidence of your journey.

In other words, you can look through the pages and immediately see whether you’ve been sticking to your daily gratitude practice.

Keeping the journal seems easy. When I did it (following a particularly harsh break-up), I wrote this phrase at the top of each page: “Today I am grateful for…”. And then, I simply made a bullet-pointed list of the things in my life I truly appreciated.

Sounds simple, right?

You’d be surprised.

For the first few days, all I could come up with was this paltry list: “My dogs, my house, my friends.”

As days went by, however, the list got longer and longer. Soon I was filling pages each and every day.

And guess what else?

I started to see the world differently. Rather than viewing life through the lens of the curmudgeonly grump I’d become, I started to see everything through a lens of appreciation.

Within a couple of months, I was feeling truly happy every day.

Gratitude at work

The gratitude journal also works for improving your outlook on your career.

Even if you start by listing seemingly meaningless things like “clean bathrooms, nice exterior landscaping,” and “close to the mall,” you’ll soon find yourself appreciating things you’d forgotten were good about your job.

But why stop there? Why not get your co-workers involved in cultivating gratitude?

Here’s how:

Remember the power of “thank you”

While appreciating the things around you will certainly make you feel better, imagine how you’d feel if the people around you began appreciating you.

You can give this gift to your coworkers simply by giving a heart-felt thank you whenever the mood strikes.

You may find that you start a firm-wide trend.

It turns out that appreciation is contagious, and it can have an amazing impact on the workplace.

Indeed, cultivating a culture of appreciation can lead to increased job satisfaction, increased productivity, and a group of employees who handle stress better than others.

Start a gratitude jar

I’ve worked at more than one law firm that had “swear jars” all over the place, yet none of them had “gratitude jars.”

It’s too bad, because gratitude jars can have a positive impact on workplace performance.

The premise is simple: you place an empty jar in a breakroom with a stack of small pieces of paper next to it. Anyone, at any time, can write down something they’re grateful for and throw it in the jar. Those pieces are read aloud at a staff meeting or some other gathering.

I think I know what you’re thinking:

“The partners in my firm would scoff at this idea!”

Well, leave them out of it at first, then. Start by introducing the jar only to people you think will appreciate it. Over time, others will get curious and may want to participate.

And even if participation never grows beyond your original gratitude crew, at least all of you will feel better for it.

Rekindle your passion for your career

Cultivating gratitude is one of the most effective ways you can connect with and appreciate your career.

Maybe you started your legal career to make a positive difference in the world. Maybe you wanted the potential for a big paycheck. No matter why you started, there was a time when you were excited and optimistic about your career path.

Is that still the case?

If not, that’s okay. It’s normal for people to lose that spark as work becomes routine and you find yourself feeling like you’re stuck in a rut.

Take some time to reconnect with your love for your legal career.

Need help? We’ve got you. Download this free eBook to guide you through that journey.

How to fall back in love with your legal career

Most importantly, have fun with your gratitude journey.

We can’t wait to hear about it.

Author

  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.