This third installment of suggestions on improving your job focuses on things that will enable you to experience the job as it is more positively, as opposed to changing aspects of it. The ideas below are primarily from the Positive Psychology movement, a paradigm that stresses increasing the focus on positive aspects of life rather than emphasizing discovering the causes of negativity, as much of psychology has traditionally done.

1. The Three Things List:

At the end of every work day, write down (by hand rather than type)* three things that went well at work that day. Ideally they should be things in which you had some role. So, for example, a water main break that caused the office to close early might be considered a positive development, but you had nothing to do with it, whereas a co-worker complimenting you on your outfit would be something you had a hand in.

2. Reframing

If something bad, or even mildly annoying, happens to you on the job try thinking about how that might represent an opportunity. For example, if an overbearing boss has returned something to you with a load of corrections, you might look at it as a chance to practice reacting less negatively (you might say to yourself “that’s just the way she is” rather than taking it as a personal indictment or attack), or look at it as a way to improve your writing skills (if you can remain open to at least some of her suggested edits).

3. Practicing strengths

Make a list of five of your greatest strengths. These could range from clearly job-related ones (analytical ability, attention to detail, organizational ability, critical thinking) to more broadly applicable ones (compassion, optimism, generosity, authenticity). Then select one of these strengths and for one week look for opportunities to apply that strength each day. Keep a written, daily record of the way you found to do so.4. Identify ways in which the work you do is beneficial to others

4. Identify ways in which the work you do is beneficial to others

Even if you feel that you’re just a cog in a gigantic bureaucratic wheel, you are making a contribution to some outcome that will positively impact a group of people. Think about (and then write about) that impact. So if, for example, you’re a statistician at the census bureau you could focus on your helping to create data that will be used to more equitably distribute government resources. Or if you’re a paralegal just reviewing documents in a patent case you could focus on your contribution to greasing the wheels of the justice system. Granted, identifying your contribution can be a big stretch…..but through stretching you can grow.


From the world of cognitive psychology comes a technique that can be helpful in turning around negativity. It requires you to analyze upsetting events in five steps, in the following manner:

A. ACTUAL event (what happened?)

B. BELIEF (what does it mean?)

C, CONSEQUENT FEELING (how does holding that belief make you feel?)

D. DISPUTE THE BELIEF (what evidence is there that your belief could be wrong or too narrow?)

E. EFFECT (what is the effect of disputing the belief; how do you now feel?)

An example: Your Christmas bonus is a lot smaller than you thought it would be (A).

B. I’m not doing well at this job

C. That makes me feel crappy

D. Maybe the bonus pool shrunk this year

E. Relief that I wasn’t singled out for negative treatment.

This technique is not designed for you to keep your head buried in the sand; there may be negative developments that call for prompt corrective action on your part. But in general people tend to “catastrophize” far more than is actually warranted.

*Handwriting has been shown to have a deeper and more lasting impact