Review: How Full is Your Bucket?

51PQNSn-v5LAuthor: Tom Rath & Donald O Clifton
Publisher: Gallup Press
Genre: Non-fiction, self-help
Page #: 128 pages
Price: $10.00-$15.00
Released: August 10, 2004

American psychologist, Donald O Clifton, spent his life teaching the world about the power of positivity. Using the simple analogy of a dipper and bucket, Clifton revolutionized the way people thought about their words, actions, and behaviors, and how they left the individuals around them feeling either emotionally charged or depleted.

In the remaining year of his life, Clifton was encouraged to put his philosophy onto the printed page. Teamed up with his grandson, Tom Rath, Clifton published his now-famous novel How Full Is Your Bucket?, which went on to become a New York Times #1 best seller almost instantly.

Christian Content Guide

How Full is Your Bucket? advocates the biblical concept of the “cup that runneth over” in that it promotes kindness and treating others with value and respect. The entire book is centered around positivity and learning to pour into others’ buckets while not dipping valuable water from them (the effects of negativity).

The book is very clean with no language, sexual content, or inappropriate topics. There is some discussion in the early portion of the book about prisoners of war dying in a Korean death camp, including how these prisoners grew apathetic toward each other; one example details how a prisoner threw out three sick comrades to die in the cold.


If I had to sum up How Full is Your Bucket? in one word, it would be: professional.

That’s not because of the plethora of supporting studies contained within its modest pages, nor the attractive PhD attached to the end of the author’s name. Rather, How Full is Your Bucket? prides itself in professionalism because it recognizes the bounds of reality and never crosses them.

Tom Rath, co-author

Tom Rath, co-author

Yes, positivity is the name of the game here, but the author takes deliberate precautions not to paint a “cure-all” picture of it. Entire passages are dedicated to assuring the reader that positivity is not a miracle method—that some people simply thrive in negativity and will not be reached, that too much positivity can be anesthetically detrimental, and that some people spring from the womb dispositioned to be more positive than others.

The first portion of the book is dedicated to portraying the effects of negativity, coupled with examples gleaned from history, psychological studies, and personal testimony. At first glance, it seems a bit odd that a book centered around positivity should begin by focusing so heavily—and exclusively—on its dark side. “Know thy enemy” seems to be the mantra here, however, and thus the initial focus feels rather justified. That tint of positivity gradually wedges its way in, as the authors juggle the light and dark sides of emotion through a plethora of insightful examples. By the end, How Full is Your Bucket? turns fully to the subject of positivity, listing five specific ways to increase it in one’s home, workplace, community, and relationships.

While How Full is Your Bucket? has the potential for heavy pathos appeal, it never really takes that approach. Yes, the co-author helped his grandfather write the novel from his deathbed, and, yes, thousands of lives have been changed by his work, but How Full is Your Bucket? never uses these facts to unfairly toy with its readers’ sympathies. There are moments of sentiment—tenderness, even—within the pages, but groping for pathos is not something this book does; it says a lot about the level of professionalism on the authors’ part.

Naysayers of this self-help book are likely to vie that How Full is Your Bucket? is a money-grab—a 128-page book that basically offers one concept: saying and doing nice things for people makes them feel good. This reviewer would like to counter that viewpoint by noting that, yes, How Full is Your Bucket? does indeed offer an age-old formula, but it does so in a way that persuades readers to want to full_bucket_2change themselves for the better. Beneath that seemingly straightforward logic lies a lot of passion, fresh ideals, new perspectives, and powerful examples collected throughout the fields of history, psychology, counseling, the family, and the workplace. That’s not to mention that this is one self-help book that’s chock-full of interesting facts you probably never knew, such as:

• We provide doses of positivity/negativity roughly 20,000 times per day
• Five positive interactions per one negative interaction is considered healthy
• Thirteen positive interactions per one negative interaction is considered counter-productive
• Positivity has been proven to lengthen the average lifespan by ten years

Visually, How Full is Your Bucket? is appealing. The clean colors and simplistic cover give it a mentally soothing aura that’s easy on the eyes. In addition, the book’s pages hold this conformity with base-line illustrations and graphs used to express important facts and data. Even the bullet-points are re-mastered to resemble drops of water.

As a bonus (or perhaps a few additional bucks to the cover price), How Full is Your Bucket? also includes an access code to a free Clifton Stengths Finder online assessment, as well as five notepaper “drops” for writing out positive messages and reminders, and a wallet-sized list of the five positivity strategies.

Final Word

ca5fac07e2160ac602ef6dbfd5f3d113Providing a self-help guide that is straightforward, simple, comprehensible, insightful, compact but thorough, and yet still “grounded in reality” is no small feat. In practice, it’s quite difficult to achieve. How Full is Your Bucket? meets these challenges head-on without making readers feel “talked down to” or hassled for sympathetic pathos.

Yes, How Full is Your Bucket? is no Webster’s dictionary in terms of bulk—or even comprehensiveness—but the information compacted within certainly seems to convey as much. It’s clear that each example—down to the word—was selected with pain-staking attention to concise detail.

Because it only totals one hundred and twenty-eight pages, the book may be met with skepticism by some readers hesitating to hand over ten dollars for the purchase. That being said, How Full is Your Bucket? is likely one of the few self-help books well worth the money, as it advocates simple ways to make the world a better place, while doing so from the biblical perspective of “the golden rule.”

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The Bottom Line



Casey Covel

Casey Lynn Covel (known online as “Cutsceneaddict”) is an award-winning, published writer, avid reader, and aspiring author. She runs a nerdy writing blog called Meek-Geek and founded PROJECT: Magic Kingdom Hearts in 2012. When she’s not writing for Geeks Under Grace, Florida Geek Scene, Beneath the Tangles, or FROM JAPAN, she enjoys cosplaying, and has won several awards for her work. Follow her on Instagram for her latest cosplay endeavors. #meekischic

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