Don’t Underestimate the Power of Gratitude

gratitudeA simple thank you can have a big impact. I saw this firsthand at the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism recently. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the Commission sent a short gratitude e-newsletter to the lawyers on its mailing list thanking them for all they do to promote and embody professionalism. The response was immediate and heartfelt. The Commission has never received so many responses to an email. The overall theme of the responses was people were grateful for the gratitude note. In other words, gratitude led to more gratitude.

This got me thinking about the underlying reasons for such a large response. The legal profession is one of service, which is not known for regular “pats on the back.” People come to lawyers when they have problems and often potential life-changing ones. During such a crisis period, clients may lose sight of expressing gratitude toward their lawyers. Therefore, it is important for lawyers to fill up their own gratitude cup rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

Why Gratitude Is Important

Research shows that a gratitude practice has the potential to enhance a person’s professional work and life outside the office. Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis found that if people simply wrote down one thing they were grateful for per day, in just three weeks, they were 25 percent happier. This increase in happiness lasted for six months. In addition to being happier, studies also demonstrate that being grateful makes people healthier, more resilient, more energetic, and nicer. Per Emmons, gratitude is good medicine as it “can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and it is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.” These are all issues that lawyers face at a high rate.

The Look of Gratitude

So, where can gratitude be found? Gratitude can be found anywhere. If you are skeptical or even if you are not, check out this beautiful five minute video on gratitude directed by visual artist, Louie Schwartzberg. You will be grateful you did. Within the stunning images of people and landscapes, the message becomes clear, there is something to be grateful for every day.

Take a moment and think back to a recent bad day. Maybe a client got angry, you got pressure from your boss, you got cut off by another car, and/or you got soaked because you forgot your umbrella. Now reflect on what else happened that day. You had a delicious meal, you had an encouraging conversation with a friend, your dog or other pet gave you a special welcome when you came home, you had a home to go too, and the list could continue. Instead of only focusing on the negative and what is wrong, the idea of a gratitude practice is to also train your mind to be aware of and appreciate all the other things that are going on in your life. This small shift in thinking can be profound.

How to Practice Gratitude

There is no “right” way to practice gratitude. The main thing is to be disciplined and practice it daily or at least on a regular basis. Here are three suggestions for how you can add a gratitude practice into your life:

  1. Journal: Start simple. Get yourself a notebook or nice journal. At the start or end of your day (you pick whichever is best for you), write three things you are grateful for right now.
  2. App: For those who prefer technology over handwriting, download a gratitude app. Find an app that you can use to set a daily reminder to pause and record all there is to be grateful for in your world.
  3. Videos: If you liked the above gratitude video or just want more inspiration, check out additional gratitude videos by Louis Schwartzberg.

Give it a try for three weeks and see if you notice any improvements to your mood, work life, and overall well-being. In the spirit of gratitude, thank you for reading this blog and for all the work you do for your clients and the legal community.

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