Lawyers are an earnest, disciplined bunch. They love evidence – the “show me the money” approach to life. They’re hard-bitten pessimist, yet love the latest self-improvement projects pitched to them by the legal establishment. You know — graphs, charts and the Oprah-like cattle call to “Change Your Life in Five Easy Steps!” The goal of all these books and slogans is Happiness, as if it were a commodity for sale. There was a snappy piece yesterday in the New York Times Review of Books entitled, “The Rap on Happiness.” It’s a great take on this country’s obsession with finding the veritable Oz of bliss.
“The real problem with happiness is neither its pursuers nor their books; its happiness itself. Happiness is like beauty: part of its glory lies in transience. It is deep but often brief (as the poet Robert Frost would have it), and much great prose and poetry make note of this. Frank Kermode wrote, ‘It seems there is sort of a calamity built into the texture of life.’ To hold happiness is to hold understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever.”
Lawyers walk in shoes that are too small for them, living lives that are too confining, unimaginative and which fail to challenge them to be their best. They need to switch from pinching wing-tips to cushy loafers. This switch gives a vital bounce to their steps rather than a lugubrious gait. The opposite of depression isn’t happiness; it’s vitality. It’s like a Swordfish bounding out of the ocean’s waves in defiance of gravity or B.B. King playing a blues riff on his guitar. They have a vibrancy that can’t be contained; they express themselves in a space where great stuff happens.
Part of the equation involves not so much pills or therapy, as the lifting up of our individual imaginations. Putting aside what’s possible in a concrete sense ( you know, the mortgage or student loans), have you ever looked out your office window and imagined the life you’d like to have? This is not the same as rumination; a constant churning of negative thoughts in our cranium which a depressive is prone to.
Rather, it’s an exercise in lively engagement with our Self. To engage in this effort, we have to pop our life’s stick shift out of “Neutral”, the frozen state that depression and/or anxiety can keep us stuck again. Locate the “Drive” on your shift and engage.
In this exercise, it might be helpful to think about the choices we make in a different way. Not in a self-recriminating way, but in a fashion that moves us in a constructive direction. We need to separate the wheat from the chaff in our lives; to decide what reduces or enlarges our spirits. Quality questions can help in regard. Not the common lament of depressives, “What the hell is wrong with me?” That’s a dreary question that goes nowhere because the answer we give ourselves is – – “Everything!” James Hollis, Ph.D., in his wonderful book, “What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life” offers us a keen approach ourselves to view ourselves:
“Ask yourself of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, or every failure to commit, ‘Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?’ Do not ask this question if you are afraid of the answer. You might be afraid of what your soul will require of you, but at least you then know your marching orders.”
Incline your inner ear. Listen to your response to this challenging question. Enlargement of one’s self isn’t so much about happiness, as meaning. Deep down, we all want a life of purpose; where we feel our lives have a point, or many points of light for that matter. You don’t have to look far. It’s right beneath your bouncing feet.