Time to Simply Be Happy

Minnesota Lawyer

My friend, Tom, and I went to the ocean that morning, meandering along the beach, picking up an occasional shell, a bit of driftwood.  It was a cool and blustery day and the beach was nearly deserted.  We said very little as we walked along, sometimes together, often alone.

After an hour or so, we walked back toward our car.  As we did so, Tom turned back for one last glance at the ocean.  He then turned to me and said: “I am happy.”  It was said simply, without qualification, explanation or equivocation.

A few strides later, Tom turned back to me, sighed and said: “But, I have a family, a demanding job, and I’m concerned about the costs of educating my kids.  I have a lot on my plate.”  The plain-spoken happiness that Tom had declared a few minutes earlier now seemed to have evaporated.

I began to wonder if Tom simply had no time to be happy and whether happiness was necessarily so fleeting.  Why do we so seldom say: “I am happy.”  And why are we so quick to explain our happiness away?

Speaking of happiness.

In my experience, people seldom say they are happy.  When is the last time someone told you: “I am happy?”  Perhaps more telling, when is the last time you simply said: “I am happy.”

I don’t believe that we can laminate happiness, or somehow live in a permanent state of happiness.  We’ve all experienced disappointments and setbacks and known dark days.  Some of us have been clinically depressed.  We also know that our profession is dogged by depression.  Our conversations often turn to complaints about the burdens, frustrations and disappointments we experience as lawyers.

Yet, in the midst of our woes, we’ve also experienced happiness.  The sources of happiness are many and varied.  Perhaps it’s been the appreciation voiced by a client, the professionalism and courtesy of other attorneys, or the thoughtful gestures of staff.  Outside the office, the love of family and friends can be a source of happiness.  Also, many of us have experienced happiness when thanked for the volunteer work we do.  When you experience happiness, do you give voice to it?  Do you even acknowledge to yourself that you are feeling happy?

Not speaking of happiness.

I wonder why we so often stay mum when we could speak of happiness.  Perhaps it’s for fear that our happiness will be fleeting.  The rationale may be that if we don’t acknowledge being happy, we won’t be disappointed when our mood sours or our life circumstances change.  Or perhaps we don’t want to appear boastful, preferring instead to join in the woe-is-me refrain that’s so commonly heard.  After all, the only person who isn’t welcome at a pity party is the person who voices happiness.  Or perhaps we’ve decided that we don’t deserve happiness.

Ignoring happiness and staying mum may seem to be a safe way to go.  Yet, I believe there are costs in not paying attention to happiness and failing to give voice to happiness as it’s experienced.

First, ignoring happiness promotes the belief that we don’t experience happiness at all.  The downward spiral of negative thinking is promoted by that belief.  And our ability to bounce-back from the inevitable challenges we face is compromised by the belief that happiness is not part of our lived experience.

Second, ignoring happiness will prevent us from doing what we can to cultivate happiness and experience more of it.  The first step in increasing our happiness quotient is to notice those moments of happiness as they occur.  As we more often notice such moments, we come to know that happiness is part of our lived experience.  With that insight, we can observe which people and what activities promote happiness in our lives and choose to be with those people and engage in those activities.  We can learn to be happier.  Also, the more we pay attention to the happiness that exists in our lives, the more we can help others spot happiness in theirs.

From where I stand, there is a real benefit to take note of happiness as we experience it and to give voice to it.  You will experience more happiness by simply declaring the truth of it: “I am happy.”  Remember it’s only speaking three words, followed by a period and a full paragraph break.  Surely you have time to do so, to simply be happy.  Doing so will be good for you, those around you and for your practice.