Have you ever had anyone ask you what you filled your bucket with everyday? Do you know what filling your reward bucket means? What positives did you add to your bucket? What positive interactions with other people have you had that day? This is something that we should do every day. There seems to be a lot of children’s books within the past few years about filling your bucket and the phrase is becoming more and more common. Sometimes, it does not feel easy, but necessary in our process of staying regulated each day.
As humans, we all need, (yes even you introverts like me) some level of relational interactions with other people throughout the day. That connectiveness that we have with other people is how our brain is wired, and it is essential to our well-being. Without strong relationships in your life, you have a higher risk of using other ways to self-regulate such as alcohol, drug use, overeating, or self-harm for example.
The goal is to have a healthy combination of what’s in your cup in the diagram above- human interaction, values, etc. Dr. Perry stated in his most recent book What happened to you with Oprah, “There’s always a pull to regulate, to seek comfort, to fill that reward bucket. But it turns out that the most powerful form of reward is relational. Positive interactions with people are reward and regulating. Without connection to people who care for you, spend time with you, and support you, it is almost impossible to step away from any form of unhealthy reward and regulation.” (pg.66) Later in the book Dr. Perry also states that interactions with others, do not have to be lengthy. In fact, studies have shown, that short positive interactions repeated over time have great benefit.
These positive interactions with others are proven to fill out buckets when we are children, teens, or adults. This connectivity to other people, or to our caregivers, is essential to our growth. As child, youth, and adults, it helps us stay regulated. There is also research that shows connectiveness helps counteract adversity (Perry p. 108).
Why is rhythm in the bucket? People that I work with often find this one to be interesting. Rhythm is a big way in which we can become regulated, and self soothe. For a infant, this can look like a caregiver rocking an infant when they are crying or swaying back and forth. As an adult this can include walking, running, tapping, knitting, beats/music with a certain rhythm. Have you ever noticed when you are feeling upset, if you go for a walk or run, it can help you to feel better? According to Dr. Perry, “Rhythm is essential to a healthy body and a healthy mind. Every person in the world can probably think of something rhythmic that makes them feel better: walking, swimming, music, dance, sound of the waves breaking on the beach, needlework, riding a bike.” (Perry p.47)
So, what fills your bucket? Another way to ask this question is, what do you value? And then think of ways in which you can fill your bucket with those things. For example, volunteering at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, nursing home, or animal shelter. You value giving back to your community and in doing so you are also filling the relational portion of your bucket as well. Those interactions with others as you are volunteering can be very healing. If you value family, making sure that you are putting adequate time into these relationships every day. If you value education, thinking of ways you can incorporate this into your daily life. If you value faith- thinking of ways to incorporate this- going to your place of worship, teaching religion, etc.
For people who have a history of childhood trauma, studies have shown that this can lead to problems with being chronically dysregulated (p.60). This can unfortunately also lead to people developing unhealthy coping mechanisms. As mentioned above, without these positive interactions with others, it can be extremely difficult to let go of these unhelpful coping strategies. To summarize, the more you fill your bucket, the more regulated you are going to be. This means it can help with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and/or trauma.