Attorney Optimism

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following is an excerpt from Tish Vincent, Attorney Optimism, Michigan Bar Journal, (Jun 2012). (View Article Here)

Martin Seligman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, writes about optimism and its effects on emotional and physical health. His work it pertinent to individuals who engage in the practice of law. Legal professionals struggle with depression at a rate that is 3.6 times higher than the general population.

…It is widely understood that individuals with a pessimistic and depressive attitude toward life are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. In the 1990s, a study was conducted in the Netherlands that measured health; many physical signs such as blood pressure, weight, smoking, and blood levels; and various risk factors. The researchers also studied whether the individuals were mote pessimistic or optimistic. …The researchers found a significantly lower general death rate for those men with a more optimistic attitude than those with a more pessimistic attitude… They also found a significantly lower rate of cardiovascular disease for optimists.

The high incidence of depression among legal professionals is understandable since the practice of law demands perfectionism, aggression, and emotional detachment. Some of the strengths that make an individual an excellent attorney can lead unwittingly to depression.

…What protective measures can be put in place to counter the tendency toward depression and pessimism? The 12-step programs have an acronym for countering addiction and depression: HALT, which stands for never getting too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.

Individuals must make healthy food choices; let go of feelings of anger or resentment; maintain supportive social relationships to avoid loneliness and isolation; and get adequate rest and relaxation.

…The good news about the studies linking optimism to decreased depression and decreased cardiovascular disease is that optimism can be learned. Seligman has written a book, Learned Optimism, which teaches the reader to be optimistic. Seligman notes that many people view disappointments as failures. They then begin to give themselves negative messages about the perceived failures. …[Instead] an optimistic attorney who loses a case might tell himself that opposing counsel had stronger legal arguments and argued the case more vigorously, that he is confident he can improve his legal arguments and vigor in future cases, and he won’t let one setback discourage him from giving his all going forward.

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