Lawyers suffer from a high rate of depression–the highest of all professions–and the peak time for depression to hit is around the holidays.  Add to that the stress that many are feeling now over the economy and whether they will have a job come the first of the year, and you have a recipe for poor performance, strained relationships and general year-end blues. 

Positive psychology is the study of what drives optimal functioning.  It focuses on the positive emotions, individual traits and institutions that improve productivity and satisfaction and that also have been determined to lengthen longevity by 20%.  But lawyers are world-class pessimists, a trait so clearly aligned with their profession that law students who score the highest on pessimism also have the highest grades.  So practicing positive emotions seems sentimental and unrealistic to many lawyers.

The proof, however, is in the pudding.  Don’t let moping through the holidays be your "realistic" approach.  Here’s a list of things that positive psychology research has found can help you beat back the depression demon. Even though it may sound too much like kittens and flowers and light, you might just find that one or more things on this list can help make your holidays happy. 

  1. Keep a gratitude diary.  Spending even 5 minutes a day writing down what you are grateful for has a demonstrated positive impact on satisfaction, physical health and energy levels. For a bigger kick, send a note to someone you are grateful to.
  2. Start the day with a smile.  If you can maintain a positive attitude through the first hour, you have a much better chance of keeping it all day.  Research shows that even if you don’t feel positive at first, the positive feelings will follow that physical smile.  Laughter is good for you too, And a positive mood is contagious.
  3. Perform an act of kindness.  One daily act of kindness, regardless of how small–like complimenting a coworker, bringing someone coffee, or large–volunteering at a food bank, mowing an elderly neighbor’s lawn, builds strong connections and adds a sense of purpose and meaning to life.
  4. Spend time with friends and family.  Plan regular time together.  And even if a late brief or closing keeps you physically away, phone calls and emails can keep you connected in the meantime. 
  5. Replay those special moments.  When you’re stuck in a conference room late at night, give yourself a break to replay those special memories you have–visualizing the moment and exactly how it felt.  It’s a mini-vacation in the mind.
  6. Manage your physical health–eat well, sleep well, exercise and stretch daily. The positive effects of good physical health–on your immune system, heart and dopamine levels–is the foundation for high functioning and lasting satisfaction.
  7. Just minutes of meditation daily for as few as 6 weeks, using music or chanting to further the relaxation, has proved powerful in developing the ability to cope with stress and lighten mood.
  8. Visualize!  Imagine vividly your goals and aspirations. Write down the specific details of your ideal life and incorporate them wherever you can into the life you have now.
  9. Upgrade your self-talk.  Stop trash-talking to yourself–remember to congratulate yourself for your accomplishments and remind yourself of your strengths.
  10. Release yourself from responsibility for what you can’t control or change. Keep a discerning eye on what those things are and don’t beat yourself up over what you can’t do.
  11. Forgive. Staying angry is like trying to kill someone else by drinking poison.  It only hurts you in the end.  Unburden yourself from the weight of resentment and anger over what others have or haven’t done. Forgive their weaknesses, their bad intentions, their failure to be who you thought or want them to be.  Then embrace your lightened life.

 Happy holidays!