Filling “Buckets” to Feel Joy

My doctor called me to find out what’s going on with my life after my less-than-desirable lab results crossed his desk.

His call came at a great time. I felt down. I’d been feeling like an empty bucket which was only getting filled up with other people’s to-do lists.  I’m good at helping others with their frustrations, stressors, and busywork. While doing that I let go of who I am — a creative soul that needs to create — the effect of which caused more emptiness in me.

So, after my conversation with my doctor I pondered how can I maintain my creative needs and still be there for people? 

After a little research I fell upon a book that helped me. It turns out there are simple ways of helping people that can also help me without sucking my spirit. In the book titled How Full Is Your Bucket? authors Tom Rath and Donald Clifton researched ways people can feel good about themselves and it has a lot to do with helping others. They called it “filling your bucket.”

Merrill Lundgreen was the first person to implement this idea of “filling the bucket.” His concept is based on the thought that everyone has an invisible bucket that holds his or her feelings. If the bucket is empty, people feel sad. If it is full, they are happy. The term applies to everyone. We all need to feel that fullness of life.

Research on what fills people’s buckets was conducted with interviews with over 4000 people. Rath and Clifton filtered through the interviewees responses and narrowed down the answers into five way that filled a person’s bucket and increased that person’s wellness to a more positive outlook on life and increased productivity at work and home. Using these strategies on a consistent basis helped “fill a person’s bucket” and feel better about oneself and life which, in turn, and can help one feel better about themselves.

The Five Bucket-Filling Strategies:

Bucket-Filling Strategy No. 1: Prevent Bucket Dipping

Bucket dipping can take many forms, but most often comes as negative comments, rudeness, unkindness — I can think of more damaging actions, but I will stop at the more common actions.

Personally, each time I feel a negativity from another person, it sinks my spirit. I can feel myself putting up my personal defenses and hiding who I am as a person, so I can’t be hurt. Who needs unkindness, unless one feels that’s what they deserve in life.

Other people that I meet I can sense their kindness and I find myself opening up to them in ways that feel refreshing, invigorating, and “bucket filling.”

I could stay in conversation with a “bucket dipper,” but personally, I find that difficult. I do avoid my first reaction of calling them an asshole. Instead my response is to politely smile and walk away.

Now, I seek out more acquaintances that speak in positive tones. They lift me up. They may not be the “in” crowd but being around them lifts my spirits. Eventually, I hope to consider them my friends.

Facebook empties my bucket. With the U.S. elections coming, my eyes wearied of all the mudslinging, negativity, and misinformation. Even with my optimistic responses, trying to “fill peoples’ buckets” I felt my own wellness draining. So, I avoid all the social media platforms except Quora. My wellness has improved dramatically.

Bucket-Filling Strategy No. 2: Shine a Light on What is Right

It’s easy for me to look at what is not right in the world, but that drags me down. I started commenting on what is good in the world. Even with the Corona virus and our isolation, there is still good when I look for it. My feeling now is that this virus will push us to change in ways for the better: working more from home, different ways of teaching school, more eating at home with families. I could go on. My goal is not to speak negatively about another person, myself, or a situation, but to find a positive. The book recommends the readers keep score of negative and positive comments we say during the day. I have good and bad days but I’m getting better with my word choices.

Being positive or kind to a person may encourage he or she to be positive or kind with someone else and those actions may encourage other actions, and so on. Positivity can take many forms: a smile, eye contact, a wave, kind words, kind actions, and so on.

Bucket-Filling Strategy No. 3: Make Best Friends

This one is where I need the most help. All my good friends are miles away, so I can’t wallow in what I can’t have, I must create a new social group. This isn’t like creating art, poetry or music. People are fickle and fearful sometimes. Psychologist Ed Diener found “the happiest people have high quality social relationships and that lonely people suffer psychologically.”

So, it is a goal to improve my social relationships, but how do I develop new high quality social relationships. At work, school, neighborhood?

So far, I like the Meetup app. It’s not a dating app, but a way to meet people with similar interests. I decided to start my own Meetup for writing and met new people. I joined other Meetup groups and hope to connect with others after the pandemic. I belong to Rotary Club and met new people when I participated in the club activities. Nothing happened when I just went to meetings.

The book recommends start with remembering people’s names. Wow, do I fail in that area. I always hail people by saying, “Hey buddy,” “There you are,” “Good to see you,” “Hi there.” Notice I never used anyone’s name. Sometimes people call me on it and ask, “What’s my name?” Those people are not my friends.

I say remembering names is not my gift, but that’s no excuse not to learn. After reading “How Full is Your Bucket? I make more effort to use people names in my conversation.

I also work a regular “bucket filling” into people I meet to develop stronger ties. “friendships are unlikely to survive let alone thrive without regular bucket filling.”

Bucket-Filling Strategy No. 4: Give Unexpectedly

Unexpected surprises is a great bucket filler for people.

A Gallup Poll found that “the vast majority of people prefer gifts that are unexpected. Something about the element of surprise fills another person’s bucket and it doesn’t have to be a big surprise to be special.

Expected gifts fill our buckets, too, but the unexpected gift does it a little bit more.

This is an activity that really energizes me as I love to create new ways of interacting with others in a surprising manner.

Bucket-Filling Strategy No. 5: Reverse the Golden Rule

Instead of telling myself, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” I need to tell myself, “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” What I want from a person’s interaction may be different from what they want or need. I know individuals that feel humiliated when praised in front of a large group. It’s not a “bucket filler” for them. Instead, they enjoy praise one on one with someone. Some people like joking around with conversations others prefer more serious and thought-provoking ones. I need to recognize the other person’s needs.

What I learned from all this is that I don’t have to sacrifice great swaths of time that I crave to be creative, but I can offer short, meaningful interactions that makes everyone feel better, including me. People may disagree with this philosophy but I’m going to give it a try.

I think the next time my doctor calls, my lab results will be much improved.

Peace, joy, love to you

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