Three Scholars Worth Your Time: Part 5

7 Mar

1. Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor at UC Riverside and the author of a fantastic book called The How of Happiness.  Ms. Lyubomirsky is a researcher in the burgeoning field of positive psychology, and although positive psychology has been derided by many people as a bunch of unkosher baloney, I found her book to be thoughtful, accessible, and not-baloney. She details and synthesizes the research done on happiness to date (the book came out in 2008), and uses this work to suggest, quite simply, how we can be happier. Recognizing that not everyone enjoys the same things, she offers a plethora of different methods people can try to increase their level of happiness, as well as some tips on how to figure out which ones will work for you. For instance, some people might find that meditation enhances their happiness, where others would prefer writing down three things they’re grateful for each week. Her writing style is lucid and straightforward, and the content itself is intriguing and practical without being unbearably cheesy.

I think the importance of positive psychology for the legal profession cannot be overstated. More and more research is showing that lawyers are alarmingly likely to suffer from acute depression and have other severe mental health issues, such as addiction.

“Of all professionals in the United States, lawyers suffer from the highest rate of depression after adjusting for socio-demographic factors, and they are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder than the rest of the employed population.”

Todd David Peterson & Elizabeth Waters Peterson, Stemming the Tide of Law Student Depression: What Law Schools Need to Learn from the Science of Positive Psychology, 9 Yale J. Health Policy Law Ethics 357 (2009). Nor is this limited to practicing lawyers:

“Before they enter law school, students show no signs of elevated psychological distress compared to the general population, but just two months into school, their negative symptom levels increase dramatically.”

Id. In other words, law school actually makes people depressed. So it is vital that law students develop the tools to combat such depression early on in their law school careers, which I believe that positive psychology can be a tremendous resource for.

2. Daniel Goleman is a psychologist best known as the author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence. Although now we take it for granted, his proposal in Emotional Intelligence — that there is more to intelligence than simply being book-smart — was revolutionary at the time. Businesses such as Johnson & Johnson have used his proposed schema for recognizing emotional intelligence to identify potential leaders within their corporations.

In Social Intelligence, Goleman addresses the emerging theory in neuroscience that we reflect the psychological states of those around us. For instance, if we are around someone who is angry, we will feel angry ourselves, even if the person is a complete stranger that we had no previous interaction with. The bits of our brain responsible for this phenomena are called mirror neurons. Goleman suggests that we have two ‘roads’ in our head for processing emotion. The ‘low road’ is the more animal-instinct aspect of ourselves: fast and crude, but useful for survival purposes. The ‘high road’ is the more nuanced cognitive processing that comes later. According to Goleman, merely recognizing that our instinctual reaction to other people’s psychological states is the result of these processes can help us better regulate them.

3. Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, where he was founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, as well as the founder and former director of its renowned Stress Reduction Clinic.

Mr. Kabat-Zinn is perhaps best known for being Howard Zinn‘s son-in-law, but he is also prominent in his own right as one of the people who has been instrumental in bringing the concept and practice of mindfulness into mainstream Western society. He has written several books on the subject, the two best-known being Full Catastophe Living and Wherever You Go, There You Are. Like Ms. Lyubomirsky’s work in positive psychology, I think that his work in mindfulness is indispensable to the legal profession, where much of the focus is on doing one thing in order to get to the next thing (e.g., putting in long hours as an associate in order to make partner), rather than on doing things for their own sake.


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