Hon. Susan E. Block
Partner, Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C.
Originally published in the January 2020 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
"The only class of people less grateful than lawyers are teenagers."
This alarming statement was made by psychology professor and lecturer Robert Emmons, who speaks to people from all walks of life, one of them being lawyers.
How did he come to this conclusion? What made him feel as if lawyers were so resistant to gratitude?
He saw lawyers as being self-reliant and valuing self-control. These qualities are inconsistent with the notion of gratitude. In addition, they are problem-solvers and enjoy being independent. Emmons characterizes gratitude as a choice and found that lawyers struggle to make that choice.
If we look at the definition of gratitude, it gives us more insight into this kind of analysis. Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
Emmons' research showed that the benefits of gratitude extended far beyond a simple "thank you."
Grateful people make for happier and more successful people as well. The positive disposition allows for better sleep, longer lives and more satisfying relationships.
Other studies involved having one group focus on writing about things for which they are grateful, another writing about things they were annoyed by, and a third, just writing about their daily experiences. The results showed that the first group had less visits to the doctor and, in general, were happier, healthier and more successful.
If your organization could reduce turnover, be more productive and increase teamwork with the infusion of gratitude, why wouldn't you give it a try? Emmons helps us develop a gratitude practice in three stages:
- Recognizing what we are grateful for
- Acknowledging it
- Appreciating it
Yes, like developing any habit, it does require practice. Let's start:
Find something for which to be grateful
This is an easy stage for me to achieve. Many people support my work, making the practice of law less onerous, and even fun. I am grateful for my paralegal, my assistant, associates, partners and staff members. It indeed does take a village to meet a client's legal needs.
Others may not be as blessed, so this stage may require some deeper digging. Take the time to do that, whether on a walk, in quiet reflection, considering the positive things that you are experiencing. It can be as simple as a good cup of coffee, a less-than-hectic day or one with a lot of sunshine.
Now act on it
Let the person you are grateful for know it. I love this stage the best. I nominate many people for awards recognizing their skills and attitude, and am thrilled when they are chosen; I often send them a copy of the nomination, brightening their day, even if they are not selected.
However, it does not have to be that complicated. Sending a quick email or text (who invented texting anyhow?) or a hand-written note are easier ways to show gratitude. Some recipients even display them on their desks. Making a phone call (yes, some people still do that) is a tremendously well-received acknowledgment. Flowers and gift are nice, too, but a simple thank you really does go a long way.
It gives me great satisfaction to deliver doughnuts to the court clerks who do so much to help us all turn our writing into court dates, hearings and relief for our clients. Try to be specific: "Thanks for your attention to our pleadings; it really helped us do a good job for our client."
Write about it
How lucky I am to have this column to write about all the things for which I am grateful. You can do this a lot simpler. Get a journal and write a little each day. The time you take in reflecting on things for which you are grateful really gives your action plan the product it requires.
Calendar a time on your digital device to journal daily. How many emails, notes and texts can you write in 15 minutes? Reach out to a client to see how they are doing (and do not bill that time). Make it a part of your practice to write a client note of appreciation within a week of finishing a hard matter. Let them know you are grateful for their confidence and for the privilege of representing them. Do what works for you in holiday cards, invitations to charity dinners or just a text. Just do not use those text abbreviations. Spell it out, please.
We do not really want to be just above the teenagers we were or know in embracing gratitude. We want to be near the top, not the bottom. The practice of gratitude helps all of us focus on what we have instead of what we lack. We all likely have more than we lack. I know I do.
I am grateful for all of you. Happy 2020.