Bucket lists are a very recent trend, popularised by the 2007 film The Bucket List. It probably came from the phrase ‘to kick the bucket’ (die), and it has already got itself a bad reputation – in this Guardian article it is described as having a ‘consumerist, acquisitive vibe’. Often, bucket lists are moments from a ‘dream world’ where they are financially feasible and practical, so they remain unfulfilled in the real world. Some studies have shown that being told that the experience will be fantastic thus having unrealistic expectations will make you feel worse afterwards, not better.
There are some points here I agree with. Bucket lists have become something of a social trophy to post on social media. Society has tried to define what makes a fulfilled life – it comes in the form of a bucket list, with typical activities on everyone’s list like skydiving and swimming with dolphins. But all of this has detracted from the real spirit of the bucket list.
A bucket list is just a list of goals. Writing down goals is always a good first step to achieving them, but the problem comes when nothing more is done. There are definitely steps that can be taken to motivate yourself to do them (see my recommended productivity resources) but that is one major pitfall with the bucket list. It becomes static, and thus a source of stress and disappointment.
Several people have tried to come up with alternatives: Joel Runyon at IMPOSSIBLE has come up with his Impossible List system; Desirae from halfbanked has proposed a ‘fill-the-bucket list‘ instead. Both of these try to solve the many problems of the conformist bucket list. The Impossible List narrows down the many boring and achievable goals to a few goals that seem impossible to start off with, or that only famous people will get to do. Then, you work towards them and do it! As with the ‘fill-the-bucket list’, instead of writing down what you want to do, list what you’ve already done. It centres around gratitude and gives you a sense of achievement instead of inadequacy.
If these systems work for you, that’s great! As for me, I think the bucket list can be reformed. Setting goals, preparing for them, working for them, achieving them – they give life a sense of purpose, but only if the goals come from within. If it is something that you genuinely want to do, then it becomes slightly easier to work for it and feels much better when you experience it. Only then will you become truly proud of what you’ve achieved.
P.S. The featured picture is of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington D.C. I took it on a school trip during February half term for the AAAS conference in 2016. We lived at the youth hostel across the street for the week. I can cross ‘visit Washington D.C.’ off my list, but I would still love to go back!