Column: Learning to be thankful can improve your life

Jonna Kane MacDougall
November 23, 2011
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Indiana Lawyer Columns

Quality of LifeI was pleased to learn about the attorney wellness initiative currently being undertaken by the Indiana State Bar Association. The organization hopes to promote a healthier lifestyle for those who work in the legal profession by “encouraging positive lifestyle changes through increased physical activity, stress reduction, healthier eating and tobacco cessation.” This much-needed effort for Hoosier attorneys, paralegals, legal staff members and law students could go a long way in helping legal professionals to lead longer and happier lives.

According to research conducted within the past decade, one way to boost your immune system and also relieve stress is to develop an “attitude of gratitude” in your daily life. It seems appropriate to investigate this form of stress relief now in the days surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday.

A relatively recent movement in the world of psychology called “positive psychology” has produced research that shows that people who are routinely grateful for what they have in life are healthier than those who do not make a conscious effort to acknowledge the positive aspects of their lives. Much of this research has been done by University of California Davis professor Robert Emmons. According to Emmons, grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet and regular physical examinations.

Studies in the past few years have shown that consciously grateful people are more optimistic and more energetic. They are also less likely to be depressed, thereby avoiding a plethora of physical ailments that coincide with depression.

We all know that stress can make us sick – it’s linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer. Interestingly, gratitude can help us better manage stress. According to Emmons, gratitude research suggests that feelings of thankfulness have a significant positive effect in terms of coping with daily problems and stress.

So why not start this Thanksgiving to become a more grateful person? Don’t turn off the gratitude after the turkey is gone and the football games are over. Below are some methods to try to develop an attitude of gratitude.

Maintain a gratitude journal. Research shows that those who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis feel better about their lives as a whole and maintain greater optimism about the future.

Create a list of all of the good things in your life. Review the list and determine if you take these things for granted. Become more mindful about the wonderful things that exist in your life.

If you really want to be creative, write down something about your life that appears, on its face, to be very negative. Think about ways that you could turn that negative into a positive, ways that you could make the negative issue less pervasive in your life or as a friend told me recently, “I try to find a way to hit the ‘minimize button, like the one on my computer, to help me keep negative issues in perspective.’”

Positive self-talk is also a good way to acknowledge the positive developments in your life. If you find it hard to identify beneficial things in your life right now, start small. I often say thank you, out loud, when I approach a traffic light that turns green right in front of me. (Okay, so maybe that sounds a little desperate for good things – but it works!)

Find ways to be thankful for the people in your life – even those people who drive you crazy. Remember that the really cranky, nasty person at work helps you to develop tolerance and patience. It’s all in how you look at it.•


Jonna Kane MacDougall, an Indianapolis attorney, is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis and a former law school career services director. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-370-4361 or via email at The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.