Writing a bucket list – why it’s good

I have in my possession, somewhere tucked away in a box, a list I made as a teenager. Kind of a life goals or objectives list. I have perused it several times in the years since it was written. Sometimes I felt I had outgrown it. Sometimes I felt I had managed to achieve a life resembling what I wanted. And at other times felt I betrayed that teenager.

In recent years such lists have also developed another name; the bucket list. The impetus for these lists seems to be a threat of time running out. An age approaches, an illness encroaches. It is, though, perfectly possible to be driven to complete a list for the purpose of setting your course through life, as I did in my youth (I think that’s the key there!).

Recently a friend mentioned that she had written a 40 before 40 (40/40) list, another variation of these life lists. And I was intrigued. I like the idea of time-framed goals to keep me busy over the next few years. I started writing a list, but doing so I was bringing up questions. Was this list a good idea?

Is a bucket list is kind of an admission that my life might not be the one I want?

As I attempted a draft of my 40/40 list, the ideas that came up allowed me to see what kind of person I aspire to be. And I was comforted to see that she was someone I could recognise, that she wasn’t that far from who I am now.

There were no wild and crazy goals that would require total reinvention or life change. I hadn’t become carried away with a hedonistic list that was all about experiences and pleasure. Rather in truth, my list was additional to my current life, about living in a more fulfilling way.

Long ago I chose this life through a succession of what seemed at the time, small decisions, that lead me to this place. It hasn’t all been as I dreamed, imagined or hoped, but it is still my life. But the things on my 40/40 list seem to be concurrent with who I am and always have been.

Maybe if you write a list and it is completely divergent from your actual life then yes it is probably that admission. And maybe then you could use the list to alter your course. But for me a bucket list is more about providing a way of enjoying the journey.

Do I need to write and perform this list to feel satisfied with my life?

As I have moved through my life what I have wanted has changed. As my perspectives and priorities changed and different opportunities arose. But writing, or reviewing, a bucket list does at least allow me to think about whether I am living the life I want. Am I surfing the waves instead of wading the shallows?

Bucket lists in all their various guises need an element of both the achievable and the unachievable about them. Easy wins will help my immediate sense of achievement. But I also want those things that will push me to achieve more than I believed I could. Together they make my life worthwhile.

And the list ensures I am accountable to myself, and to my dreams. I am shaping my life not meandering through, hoping it will go in the right direction. This of course may involve some effort, but my experience in general is that the more effort you put in the more satisfaction you get out.

We absolutely have to make the most of our time. We only have a finite amount and there is little point in living a miserable life and unfulfilled life. Whenever I get to my deathbed, I hope that I can feel that I pushed myself into living the best life I could. A list doesn’t guarantee satisfaction but provides direction to guide us.

bucket list

What should my list contain?

I reached a point where I couldn’t think of any more items to list but still had blank spaces remaining. What was the value of placing something on the list? I didn’t want to just fill up the spaces to round out the numbers with any old thing, or with something that didn’t truly sing to my heart.

Themes started to pop out at me. I had ideas for personal development (I’m still finding who I am!), health and physical activity (I’ve got to keep this body going and I want to be strong), family and home (they are my context for living) and community/world actions (if we don’t look after what we have it won’t be around for our future). These themes have been constant in my life and I’m sticking with them for the next while too.

I metaphorically examined each idea for the list. Why I want to do this thing? If it is realistic and with purpose, what I will get from the experience of completing it. Will it make me or the world a better place? Answering these positively, I knew the items deserved their place on my list. As long as a bucket list reflects your core values, beliefs and intentions to live by, then I think you have the perfect list.

What will help me achieve my list?

I am in no doubt that I find a certain pleasure from marking things as ‘done’. I have tried to define exactly what a task ‘completed’ looks like, rather than leaving it vague. For example writing a book was on my list as a teenager. But from then until recently languished as a ‘one day’ item.

In the last year though I have made a start and a little progress. Unsurprisingly this has made it onto my 40/40 list – right at the top! I have learned from a bit of trial and error what patterns of writing work for me and I have a fair idea of the time frame and actions I need to make this happen.

Overall it comes down to planning how I will achieve the things on my 40/40 list. I need to spread them out over time and make preparations where necessary. Planning makes a bucket list achievable to light the path ahead. And effort and determination, will help me walk it.

Supposedly sharing your goals removes the impetus to achieve them. But without sharing them we can’t enlist the help of those around us who might be able to help or encourage us to achieve them, a kind of accountability. So my nearest and dearest should expect a nudge here and there to provide some assistance or company!

Ultimately though satisfaction and happiness will come from it not just being about the list. I want to make sure that I am in the moment. I look forward to my 40/40 list balancing the here and now with turning dreams into reality.

Wish me luck!

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