The Empty Love Bucket

Yesterday, I spoke with a minister friend who shared a concept I had never heard of. In the 1960s, Dr. Donald O. Clifton (1924-2003) first created the “Dipper and Bucket” story, which depicted our ability and need to have love in our hearts as an invisible bucket. Dr. Clifton also co-authored, with his grandson, Tom Rath, the #1 New York Times bestseller, How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life (Gallup Press).

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 10.04.32 AMOur hearts are like a bucket. When the bucket is full we experience confidence, security, patience, and we are friendly. Our thoughts and energy are positive, and we have much love to give. But if the bucket is empty—containing few, if any, positive thoughts, then we can easily become sad, negative, depressed and insecure. Most importantly, though, our energy level sags when the bucket is near empty. When this happens, we can become very reactive to any small situation.


I reach into this bucket today and find that the well is full from a day of amazing love on Christmas. My family and I spent most of the day together, which is something I hadn’t felt in many years. We had no contention, no drama, and no one was anything but thankful. We even had a few tearful moments of joy about being together for the first time in a long while.

I’d imagine that many people out in the world have empty love buckets on this day for varying reasons. You could have had to spend the day by yourself, when you wanted to be with your family. You could have been stuck in an airport. You could have had an angry family that sucked out your energy. Any of these reasons could have brought you to a place today where you are completely depleted of energy and your bucket needs filling.

The concept and metaphors show us that Bucket Filling, Bucket Dipping, and the us of Your Bucket Lid are a few of the ways to make sure your bucket gets filled up again.

Bucket Filling happens in a converse way than you would imagine. Dr. Clifton suggests that the way to fill your bucket is to give someone else a smile, to do charity work, or to get out of yourself and be a conduit of God’s loving grace. When we do acts of selflessness, immediately our imaginary heart reservoir begins to fill with love.

Bucket Dipping is when we make fun of someone or randomly use our energy to hurt people, even unintentionally. This takes away energy. So, no amount of good can keep you from being depleted, if you spend half of your day being a dipper!

My favorite concept is Using Your Bucket Lid. This means that when your bucket is full, you should protect the love that you embody by putting a cap on your heart. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should not give love. The cap is more like having “good boundaries,” so you don’t have energy suckers pulling and tugging at your good energy.

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