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Time, Place, and Manner

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The Money is Always Greener

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You need not look far to find copious websites that either suggest or flat-out state that the profession of law is a miserable one:, PhilaLawyer.Net,, and are just a few. As someone not in the field, I don’t experience the tales of woe first-hand; rather, I hear grievances from these types of sites, friends who are/were lawyers and my clients. Whether it is the long hours, the contentious environment or, what my good friend and former lawyer called it, “a life where you help no one and want to stab out your eyes because you’re an obnoxious prick,” it seems there are myriad reasons why law doesn’t appeal to a large chunk of the people who undertake the profession.

So why do it? Many of my younger clients who are considering the field point to respect, power, “making a difference,” or simply a sheer love of the law. However, when queried enough, nearly all of them acknowledge that the potential to make good money is, in fact, a strong factor in their decision. And although student loans seem to offset this logic for a colossal number of years, it does appear that most lawyers who stick it out for the long haul make a significant income. So how can you use money to make you happy? Here’s the trick.

The literature on money as a function of happiness is mixed. Many studies point to an increase in happiness for the wealthy when compared to the poor, but the differences are not all that significant. Other research suggests that monetary success can indeed lead to happiness, but that most of these so-called happy people sabotage that feeling by making a crucial error: trying to have more than their peers.

This drive to sit at the top of the mountain may be tossed off as a character flaw, but it’s really more of psychological phenomenon. From an evolutionary standpoint, having the most resources can attract the best mate and provide for offspring. Working hard to have more than your peers also helps to offset satiety, as money can be just like any other drug that generates tolerance. But the problem is that this battle for supremacy is a race to nowhere, it’s a contest that can’t truly be won. Unless you live in a hermetically sealed dome where everyone’s income is fixed and there’s no chance you can be surpassed, you should assume that someone out there has more. Tom got lapped by Zuckerberg and Pujlos will soon make more than A-Rod. Assume, then, that your wandering eyes will notice when your neighbor gets a new Porsche, or that a colleague will have a more expensive laptop, or even a stranger on the street will be wearing a better suit. If you can’t be satisfied with your own car, computer and wardrobe, plan on the nest egg you are building up to start working against you.

This is easier said than done, but it’s imperative that you reflect on what you truly have, rather than what you don’t.* Otherwise, that competitive drive will ultimately hurt you in today’s society, and if you can’t fall back on your work and family for intrinsic reward, money will be your downfall. You’ll need more and more to simply sustain what you used to believe was a reasonable level of happiness, and ultimately you’ll get slapped with the label that no one wants: Greedy Bastard.

The next time you notice someone with ostensibly more than you, look more closely at other aspects of this person’s life. Think about his/her romantic relationships, friendships, kids, hobbies outside of work, happiness on the job, physical health, mental health, religion, reputation within his/her peer group, etc. Consider areas in which you might be more successful. More often than not, the mental scorecard we keep starts to even out. And, if not, then ask yourself: "Is making more money really what would make me as happy as So and So?" The answer is usually no. So find out what would, in fact, improve your life and chase that instead.

Besides, trying too hard to keep up with the Joneses will likely lead to expensive therapy (or an expensive drug habit, then expensive therapy); it's a counter-productive game.

* If you’re having trouble focusing on who may have less than you, just consider the editor of this site: unemployed, broke, living at home, drunk and stuck in Alabama. Alabama, for Christ’s sake!

[Read more from Dr. Rob]

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