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I Just Want to be Happy! What in the World Is Stopping You?

By District of Columbia Bar

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By Lisa Britton

“I just want to be happy!” I catch myself saying out loud.

There are three areas of life that challenge me to the core: (1) Work, (2) Relationships, and (3) Work Relationships.  #lifedoesnotcomewithamanual.

If I “just want to be happy,” then what in the world is stopping me? 

Let’s go back and explore this question a bit. It’s a Friday morning. I wake. Everything is normal: the routine, the rush. As I am about to leave for the day, my husband and I get into it.  Ahhhhhh, it’s the same fight we have almost every time. The one where no one is listening, no one feels heard, both parties are craving a little kindness.

I don’t have time to stay and work it out.  I leave the apartment feeling off-center. I get into the car and start driving. My head is running through the list of things I need to do. There’s a back-up on the expressway and I am growing anxious about being late. Where’s all my yoga zen now? 

I know I cannot arrive on time, so I turn around defeated.  I pull into a Target parking lot.  It’s not even 9 a.m.  The parking lot is nearly empty and I sit there with all the empty spaces surrounding me…wondering…what—am—I—doing?  Nearly in tears over the fight with my husband, I refuse to let go and cry.  Instead, I take out my Blackberry (Yes, I still use a Blackberry, and no, that’s not why I’m unhappy). 

I send an email that goes something like this, “Hi Katherine, I am sorry, but I am not going to make it today.”  Then I say something about the heavy traffic, but I do not stop there. I go on to say, “I have been fighting with my husband all morning, and quite frankly I don’t belong operating a vehicle.”  I need to salvage the day, but how am I going to read regulations feeling like this?  Trying to do any work right now would be pure negligence. 

Happy

Sometimes being a lawyer is challenging because of the nature of our work, and sometimes being a lawyer is challenging because of the work/life. I’m not good at compartmentalizing. I do my best work, when I feel good about my work/life. It’s hard to read code and regulations or draft documents when I have a pit in my stomach or if something just doesn’t feel right.

So, the question becomes, how do I elevate myself out of the chaos and frustration from work or work/life? The obvious answer is not to cause the chaos and frustration, but sometimes no matter how hard I try, life has other plans. What can I do in those moments?

There’s something about sitting in an empty Target parking lot, at 9am, that forces me to take a SERIOUS look at myself.  I realize I’m starring in my own little drama. A theatre that seats one.  The stage: my mind. My thoughts: the actors. I’m starting to feel sorry for my husband. 

Speaking of the stage…

A little over a year ago, I purchased tickets to see Maya Angelou give a talk. We drove to Norfolk, Virginia, arriving late after underestimating the traffic.  #BlameTheTraffic #again. 

I often think about what she said that night. She was nearly finished with her talk when we sat down. Sitting on stage in front of hundreds of people, speaking to the audience like we were old friends sitting in her living room, Maya Angelou closed with a story. It was about forgiveness. She said that if you flip around the word “forgive,” you get “give for,” reminding her that one of the ways to forgive is by “giving thanks for…”  Essential gratitude.   

Earlier I posed the question: If I “just want to be happy,” then what is stopping me? 

Gratitude.  Or, better said, lack thereof.  What if I am grateful for my husband instead of defensive?  What if I am grateful for the traffic that keeps me from speeding down the road into a potential accident? 

What if I am grateful for those challenging clients?  What do they teach me?  What if I am grateful for the adversary who gives me a chance to practice patience?  What if I am grateful for those anxious moments that show me the benefits of calm?  What if I am grateful for each and every opportunity to grow, feel, struggle, love, lose, and forgive myself and others?  That is aiming high, but perhaps I could start by simply being grateful for one thing: my breath.

When work or work/life is challenging me to the core, could I turn to gratitude for help?  In those moments when the phone is ringing, the emails backlogged, and the personalities clashing, the deadline looming, could I be grateful for something?  I think I could. 

Much like Maya Angelou flipped the word “forgive,” we could flip how we see life, how we approach work, how we interact with the world. No one can tell me how to be content. Contentment does not come from a book or a class.  This life is a journey. This life is a mystery. What am I supposed to do with this life?  I do not know. But, what I do know is that I can “give for.”  And, that is something worth contemplating. 

Join the D.C. Bar Sections Office on September 25  for "Yoga-for-Lawyers," a program designed to help attorneys reduce stress and balance both their professional and personal lives.

Lisa Britton, founder of Practicing Wellness LLC, will lead the participants in relaxation yoga, breathing exercises, and calming techniques, all aimed at making them better equipped to handle daily stresses, from looming deadlines to challenges at home.