How to develop a positive attitude that will improve your job search

Portrait of young woman.Few things are more important to your job search than having – and maintaining – a positive attitude. It’s not easy to keep going at times, especially when you have to get psyched up to make those cold calls or when you have to face rejection. Your daily struggle may drive you to negativity.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, you can train yourself in the ways of positivity, which will make you better able to handle a job search of any length. And there’s scientific evidence to prove that positivity is possible to achieve, if you set your mind to it.

Just listen to what Barbara Fredrickson has to say. She is a professor of psychology and the principal investigator at the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (a.k.a. PEP Lab) at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

In a YouTube presentation, Fredrickson explains what her research on positivity has discovered. Positivity, according to her, refers to a wide range of emotions, including joy, gratitude, love, interest and hope, and these emotions can change our mindsets and even our biochemistry. In other words, they can improve our lives if we incorporate more of them into it. “Positive people function at a different level,” she says.

Fredrickson has created the concept of a “positivity ratio.” This ratio measures the ratio of positivity to negativity. “The tipping point ratio is 3 to 1. We need three positive emotions to lift us up for every negative emotion that drags us down,” she says. “My research shows that most people clock in at ratios of about two to one, and many people are worse off still.” A 3 to 1 ratio, however, divides those who just squeak by in life to those who flourish.

You can find out your positivity ratio is by taking a two-minute, 20-question test on Fredrickson’s website at

The good news is that this ratio is not static. In fact, it can change from day to day. And if yours does not measure 3 to 1, that’s exactly what you may want to make sure happens.  But you can’t force it.

“It’s not helpful to pressure yourself to be positive. What’s better is to lightly create the mindset of positivity. Be open, be appreciative, be curious, be kind, but above all be real,” Fredrickson says. We need to be open to the sources of goodness that we’re surrounded by at all times, whether it’s human kindness or natural beauty.

It’s impossible to totally eliminate negativity, but we can control it by, as she says, “questioning mental habits that may fan the flames, like jumping to conclusions or ruminating.”

Our positive emotions are what compel us to flourish, and we should work at cultivating them.

“We could all probably name three things right now that would bring us more joy, more sense of peace and more deep curiosity, whether it’s dancing or taking a hike in the woods or doing our new favorite hobby,” Fredrickson says. “But we so rarely give ourselves permission to do those things. We think of them as frivolous. When we invest in things that give us positive emotions, we’re investing in our future.”

One method you can use to work on improving your positivity ratio is to take Fredrickson’s test every evening for two weeks and see how it changes. A check up every few weeks wouldn’t be a bad idea either. You can open a free account that will record your data and keep track of your progress.

The test results aren’t the only indication that things may be getting better for you on the positivity front, however. Just by being mindful of your thought patterns, you are setting the framework to increase your positive outlook. It’s really all about taking action. The monitoring part is just a checkup to see if what you’re doing is working.

We all have rough spots – times when we’re down – but that shouldn’t discourage you. And if you’re not achieving the recommended 3 to 1 ratio, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Just keep working at it, and eventually your attitude will change, and your increased positivity will translate into a more effective job search.

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