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How a bucket can make you happier


Korean POWs

American solders held as prisoners of war by North Korea in the 1950’s had the highest death rate of any war (38%.) After the war was over the Army conducted research to find out why. They found that prisoners were well fed, they had good housing, they reported low rates of physical abuse and torture and they weren’t even fenced in with barbed wire. What the researchers found was the solders were subjected to large amounts of psychological abuse. Solders were made to criticize each other, positive emotional support was purposely withheld and personally relationships were deliberately broken.

Fill Your Bucket

Inspired by these findings Don Clifton and Tom Rath realized how powerful focusing on a persons faults could be. They decided to look in to what happens if you focus on what is right. They ended up writing a best selling book called “Fill Your Bucket.” The basic idea is each one of us has an invisible bucket which is constantly filled or emptied based on what we say and do to others. When we do or say things that make other people feel good, our own bucket gets added to. When we do or say things that make other people feel bad our bucket is emptied a little. When our bucket is full we feel good. When our bucket is empty we feel bad.

The benefits of filling your bucket

Thankfully most of us won’t have to endure being held as a prisoner of war. However filling your bucket has many benefits in normal life. There have been many studies in to the benefits of recognition and praise (which is essentially what filling your bucket comes down to.) These studies have fond that people who receive regular recognition and praise:
  • Have increased productivity.
  • Are more engaged with colleagues.
  • Are less likely to leave an organization.
  • Receive better customer service scores.
  • Have better safety records.

How to Fill Your Bucket.

On an average day you probably come in contact with 25 different people (family, friends, colleagues.) Assuming you speak to each one of these people 10 times, that’s 250 opportunities every day to fill your own bucket. Recognition is most effective when it is personalized, specific and deserved. Vague, insincere praise doesn’t work.
As your go about your day, look for sincere compliments to share with people – and share them immediately. This is filling your bucket. If you see something, say something!


Also, be aware of emptying your bucket. If you find yourself wanting to criticize someone else, pause and run it through the Socratic filter – is it true, necessary and kind?

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