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by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jun 20th 2006

How Full Is Your Bucket?

How Full is Your Bucket? is a work of positive psychology.  The authors, Rath and Clifton, explain how important it is to have a full bucket, by which they mean getting plenty of positive feedback and connection with other people.  People who do not trust those around them, who are ignored or get criticized by their families, and who take a negative view of life tend to do less well than their more fortunate counterparts.  People who are nurtured and praised by their families, who can rely on those around them, and who take a positive view of life tend to be more able to cope with life's difficulties.  Rath tells his own story of having a rare condition as a young man that made him more prone to getting cancerous tumors, and he says that his positive attitudes helped him go through that time without becoming despondent.  The authors give many other examples of how giving positive feedback and praise to people made people more productive in their families or their workplaces.                

The audiobook is on 2 CDs, and lasts about 90 minutes.  Rath's reading is steady and pleasant without being histrionic or aggressive.  The authors are able to explain their bucket theory in plausible terms, and show how it does not reduce to bland platitudes and fake smiles.  They give five strategies on how to fill buckets and keep them full.  They advise to stay clear of chronic bucket dippers (people who empty the buckets of others), and praising the good actions of those around you rather dwelling on the negative.  Accept praise from others, and encourage others to be bucket-fillers.  The authors argue that such strategies can make a real difference in the world.

Obviously, the bucket theory is very simplistic and can sound a little silly.  For those of us prone to a rather skeptical view of other people's motivations and to be disappointed by the frequent failures of people, positive psychology can be quite annoying because it seems to verge on recommending self-deception.  Why focus on the positive when there is so much to complain about?  How can it even be possible to ignore all the problems in the world?  How can you view other people with unconditional positive regard when they are so flawed?  While the authors may not answer all the reader's misgivings about their bucket theory, they do say enough to make it plausible that it is worth trying.  In fact, this short audiobook is probably the idea length for those interested in learning about positive psychology, because longer works on the topic tend to get repetitive and redundant.  If you fill out the rather tiresome "strengths finder" survey available at, (you may need the special 16 digit code that comes with the book) you'll spend about half an hour filling it out, only to be told less than you already knew.  It turns out that my top five themes are Intellection, Learner, Deliberative, Input, Individualization.  ("People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.")  There is good reason to agree with the defenders of positive psychology that it should be taken seriously, but the solid scientific findings behind the movement at this stage can be stated quickly, and the rest is presentation, accompanied all too often by pseudoscience.  This audiobook version of How Full Is Your Bucket? leaves out the pseudoscience and keeps things simple, making it far more palatable. 





© 2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

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