Cups & Buckets:How to Fill Up with Positivity

What do you do with that empty feeling, like you have nothing left to give? 

Or the guilt that comes with knowing that the only emotions you are putting into the world are negative and angry? 

Without a plan, these feelings about ourselves can be overwhelming and lead to a vicious cycle of negativity and guilt. 

When I taught and counseled in elementary school, I always did a lesson series for the kids with the book

How Full is Your Bucket?

by Tom Rath & Mary Reckmeye. The premise of the story is that with every interaction we either have our bucket filled by the words and actions of others, or they dip into our bucket and leave us feeling more negative than before. We, in turn, do the same with everyone we interact with. As part of this exercise, I would have the kids make posters or lists of things we can do and say to fill the buckets of others, as well as things we do that dip into their buckets. After brainstorming, problem solving, and sharing ideas, we left the kids with the big question,

“Will you be a bucket-filler or a bucket-dipper today?”

As adults, we often hear the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Which is true in the literal sense, but for humans, we are rarely ever empty. Instead, we have positive feelings, emotions, and responses to “pour” into those around us –

grace, compassion, understanding, conflict resolution

– or negative –

short-temperedness, anger, criticism, or being reactionary

. Opposed to the empty cup, the bucket imagery is seemingly more accurate.

You are pouring out something. 

So what is it and what can you do if you don’t like what you see? 

While we should be able to count on those around us to be “bucket-fillers,” we can’t truly rely on others to determine our own attitudes and actions. We can add some positivity into our own buckets by attending to some simple and effective self-care strategies.

Mindful Self-Care.

Changing our minds can affect our bodies and our relationships. Practice

self-reflection and gratitude

through journaling your thoughts or prayers, join a (for now virtual)

group or community that can support you

, or schedule an appointment with a


(many are still meeting virtually) to help you reflect on your feelings and develop strategies. We can also practice self-care through listening to



(I use this one when things are getting a little crazy and loud in our house),



with calming effects, or



that allow for expression and relaxation (actually, I use all three of these daily). 

Physical Self-Care.

Along with the mind, your body may have unmet needs that lead you to struggle with keeping your bucket full of positive emotions. Perhaps you need to take a

solitary walk

, a



, or a


. If your body is lacking sleep, water, nutrients, or movement, it can make dealing with emotional situations much more difficult.

Try to avoid being stationary for more than an hour at a time, to eat fruits or vegetables with every meal, and to sleep 6-8 hours per night. 

Emotional/Relational Self-Care.

Feeling distant from others and out of usual routines can lead to frustration that you pass on to others. If you normally have a Thursday coffee date with a friend, get it on the schedule for this week and

meet virtually

! Make yourself the fanciest cup you can, pour it into your favorite mug, and settle in to chat the same way you normally would.

Connect with friends

you haven’t spoken to in a while,

watch a movie

that makes you belly laugh,

play your kid’s favorite board game

, or make a

ridiculously fancy dinner just because

. Connecting with others with intention and fun can lighten your load and remind you that there is more to life to enjoy. 

Let’s make this Monday (and this week) not-so-manic by planning some self-care routines to add positivity to your own bucket.

THEN you’ll be equipped and ready to fill the buckets of those around you with the same.