A Year of Full Buckets

One of the most personally influential books I’ve read in recent years is How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath. It is a short, simple read with a powerful and useful message. While I get it, believe it, and try to practice it, this week as we started school, it was a message I was reminded of over and over again.

First and foremost, “bucket-filling” is a about happiness. It is also about communication and general understanding of human nature. The basic idea is this: Each one of us carries around an invisible bucket of water. Throughout our interactions with other people our bucket can either lose water or be filled up. For example, when I make someone feel good, I fill her bucket. When I make someone feel badly, I dip into her bucket and she loses water. In addition, when people are feeling sad or mad, their buckets can lose water. Finally, if you are dipping into other people’s buckets and taking their water, your own bucket actually is affected and causes you to lose water yourself. In other words, a negative interaction affects both of you.

A key idea with Mr. Rath’s work is that we can never really know another person’s bucket level. Therefore, we always need to be aware of our own actions as we might be dipping into an already low bucket.

In schools, this is a key idea worth teaching students. With our young ones it is an easy way to frame our discussions about how our actions and feelings can affect others and ourselves. When you are happy and nice others feel good- and you do too. The image of an invisible bucket and each of us having a “dipper” is one kids love and can use to explain how they themselves are feeling.

Not only is it a cry for treating others well, there is also merit in considering the responsibility each of us has in protecting our own buckets. For older students, recognizing that you have some control over whether or not you allow someone to deplete your bucket is an important lesson. While you can’t control their actions, you can realize what they are doing and choose to remove your bucket from their reach. As I’ve said to my own daughter recently: “You don’t have to hang out with people who make you feel bad. Move away from them. Limit your interactions. Take control of it. You don’t have to be mean, but you can move on.”

For the adults in my days, I try to focus on the fact that I can’t see their buckets. I have no idea what else is going on in their lifes when they come into school upset or angry. While they have something to complain about which seems to involve me- there is a good chance they have had some dipping from another source. Maybe they have a sick child at home. Maybe they have worries and pressures at work. Maybe they are new to this country and are struggling with the move and relocation. Regardless, my goal must be to try and fill the bucket of a disgruntled parent, peer or friend, even if they are acting in ways that threaten my own pail.

While the book and the research behind How Full Is Your Bucket? isn’t new or even revolutionary, the start of school is a timely moment to pull out those ideas, dust them off and recommit to them. Whether with students, with colleagues, or simply- as I’m doing- with yourself, deciding to be a bucket-filler is a conscious action worth the time, energy and effort.

Sometimes the easiest things can have the most impact.

Photo Credit: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4073/4819576802_4159ab58ae_z.jpg

 

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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