• August 19, 2011

Dr. Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, in a recent MPR broadcast from the Aspen Ideas Festival, pointed out the truism that, generally, happy people do better.  They do better in their work, in their marriages, in life, and so on.

Except for lawyers (See Haidt Speech at about the 25 minute mark).  Haidt refers to research of Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman based on Seligman’s study of UVa law students.  Seligman, whose article can be found at www.lawyerswithdepression.com, appropriately enough, wrote:

Pessimism is seen as a plus among lawyers, because seeing troubles as pervasive and permanent is a component of what the law profession deems prudence. A prudent perspective enables a good lawyer to see every conceivable snare and catastrophe that might occur in any transaction. The ability to anticipate the whole range of problems and betrayals that non-lawyers are blind to is highly adaptive for the practicing lawyer who can, by so doing, help his clients defend against these far-fetched eventualities. If you don’t have this prudence to begin with, law school will seek to teach it to you. Unfortunately, though, a trait that makes you good at your profession does not always make you a happy human being.

With all due respect to these Haidters, a person that is professionally trained to spot “issues” (also known as “laws,” “statutes,” “regulations,” “rules,” “red-tape,” “problems,” “snafus,” “crap,” “jerks,” “fools,” “bastards,” and the like) is not necessarily a pessimist nor necessarily unhappy.

In fact, anecdotally, the ability to foresee and avoid “issues” (or minimize their destructive potential) and to advise clients accordingly can put one in very high spirits!

(Hat Tip to ML Reader, TZ, for the ref: to the Haidt presentation!)

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