Creating and Enhancing a Positive Outlook on Life


bucketI just finished a really quick read: How Full is Your Bucket? written by a psychologist and his grandson. There was some simple but interesting ideas discussed.


The basic premise of the book is that interacting positively makes a huge difference in ours and other people’s lives in terms of health, longevity, productivity, and our outlook on life.


No great aha moment for any of us for sure.  But they described some interesting research and shared some personal stories that really brought those ideas to life and served to further strengthen my belief in the power of focusing on strengths, solutions, and what’s going right in people’s lives.


The authors told a story of a study done on 1000 American prisoners of war who had been imprisoned in a North Korean camp. These soldiers had had their spirits and their will to live destroyed and 38% of them died as a result. They called it, “give-up-it is.”


How did so many people die when they were adequately fed, clothed, sheltered, and were not beaten or tortured? The Koreans used psychological warfare. They created an environment that encouraged soldiers to “rat” each other out, to become totally disloyal to other soldiers, their commanders, and their country, and to focus on their own faults and misdeeds. They withheld any encouraging letters from home and only gave them letters that contained bad news such as the death of a loved one or a partner breaking off the relationship. The captors systematically eroded the prisoner’s beliefs in themselves and in others to a horrific extreme.

Creating Healthy, Happy, and Productive Lives

The authors and some others decided to turn that study on its head by asking: If psychological resources can be destroyed by creating an environment where negative emotions are constantly reinforced, can’t creating or being in a context where positive emotions and a positive outlook are nurtured and encouraged to flourish contribute to healthy, happy, and productive lives?

Filling buckets

Fortunately, the message isn’t just to be happy and be nice.  They suggest generously giving praise and recognition while making it “individualized, specific, and deserved.” They suggest focusing on our talents, finding opportunity in adversity, and creating a wellspring of positivity by focusing on what’s right with you and others, and by doing “unto others as they would have you do unto them”.


Okay, okay, it might sound Pollyanna to some of you. We all know it ain’t that easy and in fact it can be bloody hard to find the good in some situations. But the thing is, the good can be found if only we look hard enough.


One of the authors, Tom Rath, shared a personal story to explain. When he was 16 he was diagnosed with a rare disorder, a genetic abnormality that caused tumors to suddenly grow in his vital organs. In his final year of college/university, a doctor found a tumor in his adrenal glands. A few years later more tumors were found in his pancreas and spinal cord. Instead of asking, “Why me?” he decided it was an opportunity to really focus on and learn as much as he could about his health. He made a conscious choice not to be defined by his illness, but to focus on his strengths and do what he could to live a full life. He focused on filling his and other people’s buckets daily and has enjoyed a good life as a result.


What about you?

How full is your bucket? What can you do each day to fill your and other people’s buckets? I’d love to hear your comments!!