There’s been a dramatic shift in how psychologists view happiness. Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard and apply ourselves, success will follow. And once we are successful, we’ll be happy.

Apparently we’ve had this equation backwards. According to Harvard researcher Shawn Achor who based his new book, The Happiness Advantage, on the findings of over 200 scientific studies, happiness is the fuel for success — not the result.

To illustrate this, he points to lawyers as one unfortunate group of professionals for whom extreme “stress is an occupational hazard.” According to Achor, if you are a lawyer, you are 3.6 times more likely to have a major depressive disorder than the rest of the employed population.

You can blame your education. Apparently the extreme emphasis on critical analysis taught in law school eventually forms a maladaptive thought pattern that is rewarded throughout your legal career.

Your finely-tuned legal brain gets stuck in a pattern of scanning for and identifying the negative much more than the positive. Constantly exposed to the worst problems, you begin to overestimate their importance and the impact they will have.

Those of you who can’t monitor and contain this habit (the antidote is to downshift into acceptance in your personal life) suffer a generalized sense of pessimism, increased anxiety, a higher likelihood of substance abuse and often poor physical health.

As if this weren’t enough, many of you also have to deal with a mounting workload. In order to cope you often isolate yourselves and work harder, effectively eliminating time for social connections.

Unfortunately, says Achor, social isolation is exactly the wrong strategy to employ. According to the research, the strongest predictor of overall happiness is the size of a person’s social network which includes friends, family, community connections and colleagues.

Having strong social bonds is also the strongest predictor of career achievement, occupational success and income. When you have a strong community of others to interact with, they multiply the emotional, intellectual and physical resources you can tap into – all important factors in you eventual success.

Here’s where it becomes interesting. Making and maintaining social ties also lies at the core of relationship marketing. It is an accepted fact that attorneys who have a large social and business network are the beneficiary of many referrals.

At Atticus®, we’ve always believed that this alone was sufficient reason to go out and meet new people.

But these studies suggest that the very act of cultivating diverse relationships will not only make your business better, it will help you experience greater feelings of happiness. For those of you who want to understand the science behind this phenomenon, Achor says, “When we make a positive social connection, the pleasure inducing hormone oxcytocin is released into our bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus. Each social connection we make over time also bolsters our cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and immune systems, so that the more connections we make over time, the better we function.”

And this effect is felt throughout the entire spectrum of relationships from the lightest and most superficial to the deepest and most intimate — as long as they are positive.

While marketing may be an inexact science, neuroscience is not. It’s rare to find a scientifically supportable activity that feeds both your well-being and business success at the same time. So the next time you’re trying to convince yourself that marketing is a waste of time – do it to make yourself happier. Those initial feelings of nervousness are more than outweighed by the lifelong benefits of reaching out to others and building a strong social network.

So come out from behind that desk. If you need some simple ideas about legal marketing, read our latest book, How Good Attorneys Become Great Marketers. If you just haven’t been out there for awhile and need a nudge, think about this: building relationships may be the most important thing you do in 2012 for your business, your health — and your happiness.

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