by Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis

This article originally appeared in Lawyers USA.

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 all wrong. Harvard researcher Shawn Achor who based his new book, The Happiness Advantage, on the findings of over 200 scientific studies, says happiness is the fuel for success — not the result.

His theory is based on the findings of over 200 scientific studies (many of which were conducted at Harvard) which measured happiness levels in nearly 275,000 people.  The studies measured the impact that happiness has on the following domains: marriage, health, friendship, community involvement, creativity and business.

Apparently, happy workers are more productive, make better leaders, receive better performance evaluations and higher pay.

How is this relevant to lawyers? Throughout the book, he points to lawyers as one of the unhappiest groups out of all working professionals. He believes extreme stress is an occupational hazard of the profession and says that 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.

Why? Apparently it all starts in law school. The extreme emphasis on critical analysis taught in law school eventually forms a maladaptive thought pattern that is generously 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 an attitude of 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 today’s economy many attorneys are doing the work of two or three people. In order to cope they hunker down, isolate themselves and work harder, effectively eliminating time for social connections.

Unfortunately, says Achor, social isolation is exactly the wrong strategy to employ when under tremendous stress. Socializing actually counters the effects of stress. 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 your eventual success.

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

As marketing consultants, 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.

According to the author, The Harvard Men Study followed 268 men from their entrance into college all the way through to the present day. Directed by psychologist George Vaillant, the study yielded a wealth of data which allowed scientists to measure the circumstances that distinguished the happiest lives from the least happy ones. Overwhelming evidence pointed to the strength of social relationships as more important than any other factor.

For those of you who want to understand this further, there is real 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.”

Interestingly, 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. Don’t invest in people who drain you emotionally. (We would extend this advice to include a few of your clients – notice which ones are emotionally draining.)

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.

We regularly advise would-be rainmakers to cultivate new habits in order to become better marketers. Consciously making three marketing contacts a week is one of the most popular because it is a simple, easy-to-follow formula. Most of you will forget the details of an elaborate marketing plan a month after you read it – but making three marketing contacts a week is doable. As long as you invest the time in getting to know colleagues, other professionals and people in the community – on more than just a superficial level. Even when you’re marketing yourself, it’s important to spend time getting to know people not just for what they can do for you, but how you can help each other. When done right, this effort produces much more than 100 contacts at the end of a year – it adds up to a stronger social and business network – one that yields not only referrals but a richer sense of community connection, resources and support.

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 Rainmakers. 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. Who knew building your business could actually make you happier on so many levels?

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