by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.

The Authors and How the Book and Research Came About…

Donald Clifton, cited by the American Psychological Association as the grandfather of Positive Psychology, once discovered that our lives are shaped by our interactions with others. A long conversation with a friend or short interactions with a stranger both make a difference – sometimes positive and sometimes negative. Although these interactions might seem to be ineffectual, Clifton believed that they accumulate and profoundly affect our lives.

Before his death from cancer in September 2003, he and his grandson, Tom Rath, wrote How Full Is Your Bucket? to help people focus on the positive in their lives. Clifton had a theory he created in the 1960s that was based on a simple metaphor of a “dipper” and a “bucket”.  According to this theory, each of us has an invisible bucket. The authors write, “It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on what others say or do to us. When our bucket is full, we feel great. When it’s empty, we feel awful.”

The Theory of Dipping vs. Filling the Bucket

Clifton’s theory says that each of us has an invisible dipper that we can either use to fill other people’s buckets with positive emotions by saying or doing things that increase their positive emotions or dipping from others’ buckets by saying or doing things that decrease their positive emotions. The theory also explains that when we fill others’ buckets, we also fill our own, and likewise, when we dip from others’ buckets, we diminish ourselves.

A full bucket gives us a positive outlook and an empty bucket poisons our outlook. We make the choice every moment of every day whether we fill each others’ buckets, or dip from them. These choices profoundly affect our relationships, productivity, health and happiness according to the authors. Moved by horrifying tales of the psychological torture of American prisoners of the Korean War — where there was a 38 percent POW death rate — Clifton and his colleagues in the 1960s wondered: If people can be destroyed by unrelenting negative reinforcement, can they be uplifted and inspired to a greater degree by similar levels of positivity? While most of us will never endure the kind of psychological torture that the American POWs suffered during the Korean War, the authors point out, we all experience positive and negative interactions every day that influence how we feel and behave. Even undramatic interactions affect us, they add, and “positive experiences or ‘bucket filling’ can be even more powerful”.

The Measurable “Bucket Filling” Results from Recognition and Praise

While working for The Gallup Organization, the authors surveyed more than 4 million employees worldwide on this topic, including more than 10,000 business units and more than 30 industries. Their studies led them to discover that individuals who receive regular recognition and praise:

  • increase their individual productivity
  • are more likely to stay with their organization
  • receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers
  • have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job

Great recognition and praise can transform a workplace, the authors write. Their studies show that organizational leaders who share positive emotions have work groups with a more positive mood, enhanced job satisfaction, greater engagement, and improved group performance.

The #1 Reason People Leave Their Jobs

According to the authors, the majority of us don’t give or receive enough praise. As a result, we are much less productive and engaged in our jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number-one reason people leave their jobs is because they “do not feel appreciated”. The authors write about another study of 4,583 call center representatives from a major telecommunications company which revealed that three service representatives scared off every single customer they spoke with in a given day — for good. The authors point out that the company would have been better off paying those three people to stay home.

How Full Is Your Bucket? explains how daily bucket filling can be used to enhance life at work and at home while providing research that demonstrates its value.

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Juliet Kyes


Book Reviewed by…

Juliet Kyes

Partner and Business Coach

ActionCOACH Tampa Bay