Fill Your Bucket

The phrase “fill your bucket” came onto the scene (at least for me) with books from Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, written for both children and adults. The books focus on the power of everyday interactions that can serve to either “fill your bucket” (or the bucket of someone else) or “dip from your bucket” (or the bucket of someone else).

What Fills Buckets?

Filling the bucket of another often contributes to filling your own bucket. A positive and thoughtful interaction with another person often leaves you feeling more fulfilled and positive than before. It will also likely invite others to engage with you in a way that will subsequently fill your bucket. It is an example of an “upward spiral”- positive change and events lead to positive change and events. If you notice that this is not the case- that the act of filling another’s bucket results in your own bucket being depleted or dipped into, use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate the way you are setting boundaries and meeting the needs of others and yourself.

So what can fill a bucket? It takes very little, really. A “bucket filler” is anything that will contribute to a person feeling more positive, stronger, more fulfilled, more energetic, etc. The interactions that fill a bucket can literally take place in seconds. Say hello, ask someone how their day is going (and make eye contact), express gratitude, give a compliment that might otherwise go unsaid, smile. Ask yourself “what kinds of interactions leave me feeling cared for or leave me feeling better off than I did before?”. When you have come up with your own examples, work on implementing these in your daily life.

What Empties Buckets?

Something that I like to keep in mind is that the act of emptying or dipping into the bucket of another person is not a sustainable way to fill your own bucket. Unleashing anger or frustration onto another person typically gives you little more than a temporary relief from these feelings- after that wears off, you might find you are left feeling guilty or even more frustrated. Dipping into the buckets of others ultimately empties your own bucket.

Another observation that I have made is that people often inadvertently dip into the buckets of others. I tend to personally operate from the assumption that most people do not move through the world with explicit intent to hurt others. Dipping into others’ buckets might start to occur more often if you are operating with an empty bucket- it can be challenging to fill the buckets of others when you feel like you’re running on empty! But remember- the act of filling others buckets can often serve as a means of filling your own bucket, and emptying the buckets of others will not sustain your own bucket’s fullness.

Be thoughtful and mindful in your interactions with others. If you can be aware of your own internal state (mood, stress level, the degree to which your own bucket is full or empty) you have a better shot at avoiding inadvertent dips into others’ buckets. If you notice yourself feeling depleted, you can engage in self-care and take the time to tend to your needs; this will likely leave you feeling fuller and more capable of entering into interactions with others in a positive state.

I think we can all relate to having a rough or “off” day. There will be times when you engage in a behavior that dips into the bucket of someone around you. Hey, we’re all human! However, acknowledging and offering a genuine apology way may actually serve as a “bucket filler”. How validating does it feel to have a person acknowledge and take responsibility for the way in which his/her behavior may have impacted you? It does not wipe clean or “cancel out” the bucket dip, but it can communicate to others that you are thoughtful and aware of their experience.

If you are interested, the two books that I referred to are How Full Is Your Bucket? and How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids.

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Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.