How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton

This year for my job, I set a goal of reading one book each quarter related to leadership, development, assertiveness, or management. You can read books from earlier in the year here and here.


I found How Full is Your Bucket? on the shelf of my stepson Andrew — a gift from his grandmother. I remembered my sister talking about it, especially the edition for kids, and how it had resonated with my nephews years ago. So I borrowed it.

The premise of the book is that we all have an emotional bucket. We can fill the buckets of others through positive interactions, dip out of others’ buckets through negative interactions, and have our buckets filled or emptied. It’s a deceptively simple analogy for positive and negative thinking, behavior, and speech.

The authors propose 5 strategies for being better bucket fillers:

1. Prevent bucket dipping: be aware of your actions, and stop dipping from others’ buckets by being negative.

2. Shine a light on what is right: make an effort to focus on the positive. (Check yourself by looking at the positive impact statements online.)

3. Make best friends: invest in relationships in positive ways and you’ll have greater satisfaction in life.

4. Give unexpectedly: the element of surprise fills buckets more than expected gifts.

5. Reverse the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”

Part of the research into the impact of positive emotions on life expectancy involved a group of nuns. Those who reported experiencing more positive emotions lived about 10 years longer than the others. In comparison, “negative emotions might cut more years off life expectancy than smoking.”

A significant take-away for me as a manager is related to employee recognition: it’s not enough to praise colleagues, reward them, or compliment them. The authors suggest getting to know what each individual prefers in terms of praise, accolades, or recognition.

Personally, I feel I tend more toward allowing my bucket to get too drained.  For me It’s very true that it takes several (these authors posit 5) positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction.

After discussing the book and current stressors, my friend Natasha and I started a bucket with inspirational quotes and Bible verses for me to keep in my office — for me and for anyone who needs encouragement. We’ve written each quote on a piece of card stock, and just looking at the bucket reminds me of the principles from the book.

If you haven’t read How Full is Your Bucket? , I highly recommend it. It could be easily read in an evening, though the expanded educator’s edition I borrowed was half Bucket, half a teacher’s guide for implementing the principles in a school setting.

After reading it, I ordered Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie to continue learning from their research. I’m excited about completing the strengths finder and seeing how the results compare to a different strengths exercise I completed years ago. In 2005, the results were:



Judging/critical thinking/open-mindedness

Love of learning

Curiosity/interest in the world

If you’ve read How Full is Your Bucket?, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Author: Keri

1 thought on “How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton

  1. I hear you about this: “For me It’s very true that it takes several (these authors posit 5) positive interactions to overcome one negative interaction.” — me too. I really like your idea of keeping an inspirational bucket of quotes.

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