Law in Contemporary Society

A Search for Practical Ways to Foster Happiness in Law School

-- By MichelleXiao - 10 Mar 2022

Months into law school, I found myself consistently more tired, stressed, and aggravated than I had been in the past couple of years. Eager to change this, I began to incorporate scientifically supported habits to increase happiness in my life.

The Methods

Gratitude & Happiness

In this article, Arya and Khandewal (2014) support the general connection between gratitude and happiness. They hypothesized that gratitude may increase the experience of positive emotions and therefore happiness. Researchers assigned sixty undergraduate students to two groups (control and experimental) and asked them to complete surveys gauging long-term happiness, current emotional states, and how easily they access gratitude in everyday life. These measures were again completed after the two-week experimental period. Each day during the experiment, those in the intervention group were asked to list five things within the past day that they were grateful for, while those in the control group were asked to simply list five things they had done in the past day. While initial happiness, positive affect, and gratitude scores were comparable between the two groups, the experimental group showed significantly higher happiness, positive affect, and gratitude scores after the intervention. The results supported the hypothesis that gratitude increases happiness, supporting a link between the two.

Optimism & Happiness

In this study, Lyubomirsky et al. (2011) support the positive relationship between optimism and well-being. Lyubomirsky et al. (2011) predicted that practicing optimism would lead to improved well-being. Researchers classified undergraduate students (355) as either high motivation, if they had signed up for an experiment advertising a “happiness intervention,” or low motivation, if they had signed up for an experiment involving “cognitive exercises.” Participants were classified as such because those seeking out a happiness intervention most likely wanted to increase their happiness, while it was unclear if those who signed up for the alternative wanted to or not. Researchers randomly assigned participants to either the control or experimental group and asked them to complete baseline assessments of well-being, which included measurements of happiness and life satisfaction. For eight weeks in the expressing optimism experimental group, participants were asked to spend 15 minutes once a week visualizing an idealized version of themselves in the future. Each week varied, prompting participants to think about their romantic life, interests, family, careers, social life, community, and health. In the control group, participants simply spent 15 minutes a week listing what they had done in that week. After the experimental period, well-being was measured again. Those in the high motivation group who practiced optimism experienced a greater increase in levels of well-being than those in the control group and those with low motivation in either group. These results support the hypothesis that optimism correlates positively with well-being, particularly if the individual wants to be happier. One limitation of this study is that those who chose cognitive exercises instead of happiness intervention may not be low motivation but instead differ in other characteristics such as low openness to experience.

Applying Gratitude and Optimism to my Own Life


I am applying a modified version of both experiments to my own life. I will use the Oxford Happiness Test for baseline and final measurements to gauge happiness. For one week, I will 1) think about and write down 5 things from the past day for which I am grateful for and 2) think about one to three things for each category (one per day: in order 1) romantic life, 2) interests, 3) family, 4) careers, 5) social life, 6) community, and 7) health) that I visualize my ideal self in the future would have. I hypothesize that my Oxford Happiness Test score will increase; method one’s exercise will bring gratitude to the front of my mind, and method two’s modified “best possible selves” exercise will harvest optimism in my life, both of which will increase my happiness.


I began my week with an Oxford Happiness Test score of 4.59 and ended my week with a score of 5.16. For reference, a score of 3.5 indicates an individual has both an equal number of happy and unhappy thoughts, and the average person scores around a 4.0.


While it’s great that these experiments have yielded positive connections to happiness by establishing connections between gratitude and optimism, neither of these experiments give a satisfying answer as to why the behavior in the experiment helps increase happiness. To delve into this, we must think about what Putnam theorized about states of being. In infantry, children are constantly switching between states based on their immediate circumstances: a child is happy watching TV until they get hungry, in which case they are now fussy. As we get older, these states of being become cornerstones of who we are: our personality and baseline levels of happiness (or unhappiness). When I was engaging in each of these experiments, I was slowly but surely weakening and dissolving my current state of aggravation or tiredness and replacing it with a positive state cued by gratitude or optimism. Recurring states are cued by context and travel well-worn pathways. In order to change my baseline happiness, I needed to consistently make the effort to summon thoughts that switched my state of being from a negative to a positive one. For me, these exercises in gratitude and optimism helped with summoning those thoughts. Because I was documenting my gratitude, I began to look for and find more things to be grateful for, which cued me into a happier state of mind. Similarly, as I thought about my workload, the optimism exercise helped me change the way I was thinking about it—from looking at how long and difficult the tasks themselves were, to thinking about why I’m doing them in the first place and what I hope to achieve through them. Making quicker and more frequent switches from negative to positive states created and solidified my new pathways to happiness.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r5 - 31 May 2022 - 04:14:42 - MichelleXiao
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM