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Fill someone's happiness bucket today

I recently got two cards in the mail. One was linked to a baby gift I'd sent to my pregnant niece in which I had included a copy of "Goodnight Moon."

I did not expect a response. My niece is in her late 20s, and I've sent her many gifts over the years but seldom even received indications of receipt — never a written letter of acknowledgement complete with a stamp on the envelope.

She could have sent me an email message or posted something about "the great package I got from my aunt" on her Facebook page — instead, she sent me a handwritten "thank-you" with lilacs cavorting all over the card and a few sweet sentences about the importance of that particular book in her life. I love that note.

That day I also received an unexpected and tender letter from my newly married daughter's husband's parents. Among other acknowledging comments, it said they were "very happy" to be a part of our family. The wedding occurred more than six months ago — it was a wonderful celebration (a little too expensive but we managed) and the loving couple does well. We knew, from the beginning, our new son-in-law's dad and stepmom were affable people — and now we know they send periodic, friendly and acknowledging letters, too. Does it get better than that?

Yes it does. I was at an eye doctor appointment on that very same day and a woman I did not know approached me with a wide and gracious smile to tell me how much she loved my column. She was quite affirming and her lovely manner stayed with me all day — actually made my day better.

Have you made someone's day better lately? It doesn't take much. I'm always surprised at how impactful a well-given smile can be. I'm amazed at the power of authentic friendliness. Research has demonstrated (Gallup, 1994) that recognition and praise increase organizational engagement and measurably improve safety in the workplace. The data concluded, "Where productivity is concerned, it would be better for organizations if people who are overly negative stayed home. When they do show up for work, they are counterproductive."

Powerful, don't you think?

Reality suggests that as a society we tend toward the negative. According to the Department of Labor, the most often-stated reason people leave jobs is because they "do not feel appreciated." Strike a chord?

If you choose to keep pondering all this, try www.bucketbook.com. The question posed is: "How did you feel after your last interaction with another person? Did that person — your spouse, best friend, co-worker or even a stranger — 'fill your bucket' by making you feel more positive? Or did that person 'dip from your bucket,' leaving you more negative than before?"

If it's the latter, opportunities abound. Go ahead and pay a compliment to a stranger. Make it heartfelt, of course. However, I suggest testing this approach at home first, on a partner or family member. Most experts say you'll get the most impact if you are "very specific." Here's a personal illustration, "Honey, I absolutely love the way you trimmed our hedge — perfect height to see the bird feeder."

Voila, you feel better, your hubby does too — and yard work, in all its various forms, begins to occur more frequently. There's data to support that by the way.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.