The Practice of Gratitude and Law: How the Two Go Hand in Hand

It started on a Friday afternoon 15 years ago. I came home after picking up my two girls from grade school. Jan was watching Oprah and she said, “You should sit down and watch this. I think you’d really like it.”

Somewhat begrudgingly, I joined her. It’s not that I didn’t like Oprah, it’s that it wasn’t really my thing. I would’ve rather been outside getting the grill going on a warm and beautiful spring day.

Watching that show was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Honestly, I don’t remember who she interviewed. I don’t recall much detail of the show. I do know that the following morning I started a new practice.

Before I got out of bed each morning, I would review, literally, every hour of the day before reflecting on all the good things that happened that day. I’d spend 15-20 minutes to remember who I talked to, who I met, what I had for lunch (of course) and how others affected me — not by what they gave to me, but by being who they are. 

To say the least, it was an eye-opening experience.

I knew I had a good life. But until I took a conscious look at the details, I didn’t realize  how profoundly good I have it.

It’s so easy to only see the peaks and valleys of the day. The big parts that stand out. Between the highs and lows is where we truly experience life.

There’s been a staggering amount of neuroscience research examining how our brains experience gratitude and the chemical responses it causes. Dr. Alex Korb describes it as the virtuous cycle:

“… your brain loves to fall for the confirmation bias , that is it looks for things that prove what it already believes to be true. And the dopamine reinforces that as well. So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.”

You can read more about Dr. Korb’s research and other articles about that here.

Another well known researcher, Robert Emmons, identifies four benefits that flow from gratitude:

  1. Gratitude allows celebration of the present moment.
  2. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions (envy, resentment, regret and depression.)
  3. Grateful people are more stress resilient.
  4. Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth.

There’s a wonderful article and several video clips by Dr. Emmons discussing the science behind gratitude on this webpage.

Practicing gratitude allows me to see what each relationship brings to my life.  

While the relationships with my client’s is one of the most rewarding part of being a lawyer. The relationship with my staff is equally important. Without a great legal assistant and receptionist, no matter how hard I try, I wouldn’t be able to care for my clients the way I want to. I’d be too busy putting out fires and keeping my nose above water.  

Without their hard work, It would be hard for me to deeply focus on meeting my clients.. There are a number of ways that I show my gratitude for all they do for me.  

  • I thank them at every chance I get.
  • I tell them how I appreciate what they do daily.
  • I let them know the value that they bring to the office, me, and my clients. When I send an email I always say thank you or please.
  • Once a week I buy them their favorite coffee drinks.
  • I’m as flexible with their schedule.

This is how I keep the “virtuous cycle”  within my office that Dr. Emmons talks about.

Who would have thought that the effects of watching a TV show 17 years ago would still be weaving it’s way through my life today — deepening and expanding my understanding and appreciation of all life brings — if my eyes open to see it.

Do you have a specific gratitude practice? If you do, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.

For those interested in gratitude in the workplace, I’d recommend this article about workplace appreciation and gratitude.

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