From “Bucket” List to “Life” List

I’m turning 24 in several weeks, and have been thinking about starting my next year of life with a bucket list. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a bucket list as “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying” (Merriam-Webster 2013). The term is derived from the phrase”kick the bucket” (a euphemism for dying) and is thought to have been first used in 2006 (Merriam-Webster 2013).

By 2007, the idea had caught on so well that there was a movie, called The Bucket List and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, released on the concept (IMDb 2013). I’ve never seen the movie myself, but the IMDb overview suggests that it is a movie filled with both hope and despair, describing it in short as: “Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die” (IMDb 2013).

Now I’m not by any means close to death. However, a recent familiarity with the online world has opened my eyes to the number of people out there chronicling their bucket list journeys through blogging. It’s a central and defined concept around which to build a blog, certainly, though I think the idea suffers from overuse and the same level of optimism and arrogance colouring people’s list of New Year’s resolutions.

In fact, going through Annette White’s blog, you begin to wonder if the bucket list concept isn’t reserved for only the most hedonistic, reality-deluded individuals. Her list of 47 ‘inspiring’ bucket lists (see it here) gives insight into the superficial nature of most bucket list items – e.g.: snorkel on a reef; visit a rainforest; have a massage on a beach. Some of them can also be a little ambitious and overly vague in their wording (e.g. found a nonprofit organization to help others).

So, two problems exist with most bucket lists: 1) they don’t have very meaningful or life-changing goals, and 2) they are often vaguely worded and thus less likely to be achieved. I’m not the only one to think this way, as defended in this July 2012 blog article “A Bucket List Worth Bragging About“. The experiences which are purchased in pursuit of the bucket list often become the measure of an individual’s life, inflated by the sense of importance bestowed upon the individual via the online community (Massive Audience, 2012). Some alternative bucket list items which might be of better use to humanity as a whole include: “Positively influence the life of one other person”; “Stand up for one cause that I believe in”; or, “Improve the life of a living creature through adoption”.

Now, the goals that I just listed are still pretty vague. According to Oettingen and Gollwitzer (2010), people can better take charge of their actions through self-regulating their goal pursuits (i.e. setting and implementing goals) (Oettingen & Gollwitzer, 2010). Goals should be framed positively, dedicated to fulfilling internal needs, and aimed at achieving (rather than demonstrating) competence (Oettingen & Gollwitzer, 2010). Common pitfalls or barriers to goal achievement include getting started, staying on track, doggedly pursuing futile or unrealizable goals, and overextending yourself (Oettingen & Gollwitzer, 2010). Careful pre-planning can aid an individual in reaching their stated goals, however, as they will be better equipped to respond to unexpected situational variables (i.e. if I encounter issue “X” in the pursuit of my goal, I will respond with “Y”) (Oettingen & Gollwitzer, 2010).

Thus, I propose that a bucket list be carefully worded with specific, tractable goals that have stated alternatives (in the case of an unrealizable goal) and which are situated in the context of an individual’s life. For example:

  • I will adopt 1 pet by March 2014 and provide it with necessary veterinary care and affection for the duration of its natural life.
  • Alternative: Should I be unable to afford the physical space and high-quality health care required for a pet, I will volunteer at a local animal shelter for 1 year, beginning in March 2014.

When I start to think of a bucket list as a wish list for all the little, day-to-day experiences which might have meaning to me, it shifts my focus away from purchasing an ostentatious vacation. I start to think of it as a “life list”, rather than a “bucket list” – essentially it becomes a series of items that are intrinsically-rewarding and not urgently accomplished before I pass away. Instead, they are activities performed to draw out the moment, to savour every moment of life as it is presented to me. I think this is an idea worth trying, and I’m excited to begin.

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