Yep. That’s what I thought to myself the other day for the first time in my twenty-something years on this planet. FOR THE FIRST TIME.
What the hell took so long? All this time i’d been thinking that I became an adult at 18 or 21, or at least that’s what I was led to believe. My brain (and my male emotional development) obviously decided to take the scenic route when transitioning from child to adulthood.
What’s that old saying? “It’s not the destination that counts, but the journey..” True true.
I’m in the process of finding my next journey at the moment. Trying to decide what area of law that i’d like to practice in (if I get admitted). Criminal Law and Family Law have always interested me. Criminal Law from a very young age and Family Law more recently. I got into law to challenge myself as I said in my previous post but also because I like to help people. With Criminal and Family Law you are often helping people at the lowest point in their life and so it would be extremely satisfying and rewarding to help them get through those tough times. As you move into larger and larger firms I think you lose that human element and along with it that satisfaction of knowing you made a real difference. You’re also a small cog in a very big wheel.
I had the second of three weeks onsite at the College of Law this week. We were given a lecture on Monday by the Legal Services Commissioner. He receives complaints about lawyers in NSW. It’s no surprise that the number one reason people phone the Commissioner is to complain about overcharging (2010-11 Annual Report, p38). The recent Keddies debacle hasn’t helped things. G-R-E-E-D. That’s all it is.
What do you want in life? A private jet, big house, 4 cars and a yacht?
Are they the measures of success? Happiness? Both?
There have been many studies that show once you reach a certain level of income that your happiness essentially plateaus. You and your loved ones have clean water, food on the table, a roof over your heads, can access education and health services and maybe even have a small disposable income. What else do you need to be happy?
The first World Happiness Report was launched at the United Nations in April this year. It’s 170 pages long, but i’d recommend reading at least the first 10 pages or so just out of interest. Here are some points i’d like to mention:
Higher average incomes do not necessarily improve average well-being, the U.S. being a clear case in point, as noted famously by Professor Richard Easterlin. U.S. GNP per capita has risen by a factor of three since 1960, while measures of average happiness have remained essentially unchanged over the half-century. The increased U.S. output has caused massive environmental damage, notably through greenhouse gas concentrations and human-induced climate change, without doing much at all to raise the well-being even of Americans. Thus, we don’t have a “tradeoff” between short-run gains to well-being versus long-run costs to the environment; we have a pure loss to the environment without offsetting short-term gains.
The paradox that Easterlin noted in the U.S. was that at any particular time richer individuals are happier than poorer ones, but over time the society did not become happier as it became richer. One reason is that individuals compare themselves to others. They are happier when they are higher on the social (or income) ladder. Yet when everybody rises together, relative status remains unchanged. A second obvious reason is that the gains have not been evenly shared, but have gone disproportionately to those at the top of the income and education distribution. A third is that other societal factors – insecurity, loss of social trust, a declining confidence in government – have counteracted any benefits felt from the higher incomes. A fourth reason is adaptation: individuals may experience an initial jump in happiness when their income rises but then at least partly return to earlier levels as they adapt to their new higher income.
While higher income may raise happiness to some extent, the quest for higher income may actually reduce one’s happiness. In other words, it may be nice to have more money but not so nice to crave it. Psychologists have found repeatedly that individuals who put a high premium on higher incomes generally are less happy and more vulnerable to other psychological ills than individuals who do not crave higher incomes. Aristotle and the Buddha advised humanity to follow a middle path between asceticism on the one side and craving material goods on the other.
A further huge problem is the persistent creation of new material “wants” through the incessant advertising of products using powerful imagery and other means of persuasion. Since the imagery is ubiquitous on all of our digital devices, the stream of advertising is more relentless than ever before. Advertising is now a business of around $500 billion per year. Its goal is to overcome satiety by creating wants and longings where none previously existed. Advertisers and marketers do this in part by preying on psychological weak-nesses and unconscious urges. Cigarettes, caffeine, sugar, and trans-fats all cause cravings if not outright addictions. Fashions are sold through increasingly explicit sexual imagery. Product lines are generally sold by associating the products with high social status rather than with real needs.
And finally, there is one further word of warning to those who expect to become happier by becoming richer. Even if gains in well-being can be eked out by further income gains, the evidence is quite overwhelming that after a certain point, the gains are very small. The key idea is known as the “diminishing marginal utility of income.” Suppose that a poor household at $1,000 income requires an extra $100 to raise its life satisfaction (or happiness) by one notch. A rich household at $1,000,000 income (one thousand times as much as the poor household) would need one thousand times more money, or $100,000, to raise its well-being by the same one notch. Gains in income have to be of equal proportions to household income to have the same benefit in units of life satisfaction. This principle means that poor people benefit far more than rich people from an added dollar of income. This is a good reason why tax-and-transfer systems among high-income OECD countries on balance take in net revenues from high-income households and make net transfers to low-income households. Put another way, the inequality of household income is systematically lower net of taxes and transfers than before taxes and transfers.
It has taken me many years to realise that happiness doesn’t come through greater wealth or material possessions. You only need to think what you’d take if there were a fire raging inside your home to realise what is important in life – your loved ones (including pets) and many times photo albums. Irreplaceable memories and moments in time captured forever. That’s one of the reasons I love photography – the ability to freeze a moment forever, to look back on it in 10 years’ time and remember it as if it were yesterday.
The same day we heard from the Legal Services Commissioner we also had a workshop on Resilience and Wellbeing. Apparently up to 30% of lawyers will experience mental health issues at some point in their careers.
That’s a pretty damning figure.
What the workshop reinforced was just how important the above aspects of happiness are to good mental health and wellbeing. Better sleep, more exercise, better nutrition, time to relax, important relationships, the ability to experience a full range of emotional responses and the discovery and sharing of personal values. It’s clear that law firms today need to be well aware of the mental health issues their employees face, and in addition to providing a strong and supportive culture within the firm, to ensure that their employees have a good work/life balance, instead of just meeting X billable hours each week.
Tied in with all of the above, I came across this page from a palliative care nurse who spent time with patients in their last three to twelve weeks of life. What regrets did these people have about their lives?
I’d like to learn from their mistakes.
Here’s to living life to the full.