“I don’t have a Bucket List. Bucket Lists just make you depressed.” – Joan Mutchler
My mom says happiness is about learning – or maybe choosing – to be content where you are right now.
So I must be a glutton for misery, because I have at least 80. Things to Do in New Zealand, Things to Do in South Dakota, Things to Do Before I’m 31, Things to Do Before I Die. Best Travel Books To Read, Favorite Films To Inspire Wanderlust, Iconic Foods To Eat In This Lifetime.
They’re just so convincing, those long lists and big dreams. So easy to imagine and scribble down on paper. Like the New Year’s resolutions I compile each January, they hover around me like butterflies: inviting in appearance, more difficult to catch.
Joan may be on to something. As I stare down the next 365 days, do I dare add another list to my collection? Or do I voluntarily recognize how flighty all these pieces of paper can become? Should we continue to describe our future in bullet points, or should we let ourselves face it with open, un-bucketed arms?
Unable to decide, I made a list. . .
Reasons Not To Bucket List:
- It causes FOMO. Not the kind you joke about over a tantalizing restaurant menu, but the kind psychologists worry is destabilizing modern generations. The kind exacerbated by social media, where previously private Bucket Lists are now shared and compared. Fear Of Missing Out is real, and a BL does nothing if not remind us of exactly what we’re missing out on.
- It turns into a competition. Like New Year’s resolutions, BLs are created for personal enrichment. Ongoing contribution means we can tick things off when we’re 64. Add them when we’re 96. But when writing turns into winning, we race through BLs with a fear that leads to regret and the unnecessary weight of failure.
- It’s not always subjective. Personal enrichment is personal. Yet easy access to the internet’s 100,000 BLs (approximate number) can distract us from the simplicity of our own deeply entrenched goals, and convince us to pursue tasks we wouldn’t otherwise. Energy better applied to that itching idea will be wasted on something someone else said we “must do.”
- It skews our expectations. If my mother is right, and happiness is an action, then we need to start seeking it in the smallest of daily experiences before we can discover it in big BL entries, such as “Become President.” Huge expectations are difficult to exceed; spend too much time focused on their accomplishment, and we miss the journeys on which they take us.
Reasons To Bucket List:
- It expands the horizons of our reality. So no, “Become President” may be a lot less achievable than “Walk the Great Wall of China.” But that’s the entire purpose of a BL: to encourage past difficulties, to motivate through actualities, to promise beyond all hopes. The only limitation for the list should be the passion we have toward achieving dreams.
- It gives us eternal inspiration. The world doesn’t end when you turn 30, have children or buy a house. BLs can be steady companions through each era of our lives, combining naive childhood dreams with unexpected adult wishes. When practiced with a heart of awe, they may actually have the power to make us younger.
- It can be all ours. While it’s completely acceptable to borrow items from other BLs, never forget that yours is yours. Complete it in pictures, cover it in glitter; add the loftiest schemes you can think of, or fill it with the simplest of daily activities. Put a name to every thought you’ve ever had, and fill in the blanks here. This treasure is 100% totally completely significantly no one else’s.
- It reminds us of ‘why.’ The same psychologists studying FOMO understand the positive mental health benefits of having goals. Their pursuit should give us clarity, peace, a sense of focus. Something as grand as a BL, which stretches across countries and decades, clearly outlines the direction we want to spend our lives traveling in. And this, in turn, gives us a reason to wake up each morning.
This year, do what works for you. Write a ream of Bucket Lists, or burn them all in a public display and never pen another list again. Freewheel it until the urge passes. Either way, we’ll all be searching for happiness together. Happy New Year !
Photo credit: Queenstown Paraflights