Legal professionals experience higher levels of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, burnout and suicidal ideation compared to the Canadian working population. This prompted Lynda Collins, a full Professor in the Centre for Environmental Law & Global Sustainability at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty Law, to create a specialized course called Happiness and the Law.
“Our desire for our own happiness and the happiness of others is at the very foundation of law. The law is a social tool that we collectively developed to allow people to live good lives, to be free from violence and cruelty, to have the full scope to express ourselves, and become who we want to be. You think about human rights and they're really all about that -- to be free from suffering and then on the flip side to be happy and yet this can get really lost in law school and in legal practice,” says Collins.
The course description states “Human happiness is arguably one of the underlying drivers of law and legal systems. Yet legal studies often overlook this central human need and desire, and lawyers sometimes fail to cultivate happiness within their own professional lives.” The objective of this course is to examine the role of happiness in legal systems, the scholarship of happiness at work and practical tools for maximizing happiness in law school and legal practice.
“Law students and lawyers have significantly higher than average mental health problems so teaching that course is just my effort to try to reinsert that happiness driver into our legal lives”
— Full Professor at uOttawa's Faculty of Law
“We've learned over the years that law students and lawyers have significantly higher than average mental health problems so teaching that course and talking about this more widely is just my effort to try to reinsert that happiness driver into our legal lives,” she adds.
After doing additional research, Professor Collins realized that when students are happier, they perform better academically.
From getting enough sleep, exercise, good nutrition, to cultivating a meditation practice, this course will help law student thrive as they make their entry into law.
“The data shows that some of the most significant drivers of happiness are the most obvious. For example, sleep. Law students habitually believe that it's in their best interest to sacrifice sleep. They think that by doing that they're going to increase their grade point average. The academic research shows just the opposite: we are all much smarter when we sleep. And sleep deprivation is a significant driver of anxiety and depression,” explains Collins.
For Collins, learning to manage our wellness is as important as learning to write. It's one of the basic building blocks of lawyering. After all, “cultivating our happiness is one of the most powerful things we can do to improve our performance,” recommends Collins.
“I've been teaching for 15 years, and each year I feel a greater sense of admiration for my students, for the way that they support one another and for the joy and sense of community that they create,” underlines Collins.
The Happiness and the Law class will be offered starting January 30, 2023.