Creating a so-called bucket list has become de rigueur ever since Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson’s 2007 Hollywood movie popularized the concept. With the ubiquity of the bucket list phenomenon you’ve probably already heard your friends or family talking excitedly about their own list and all the unique and exhilarating activities they plan on doing before they kick the bucket. Maybe you’re thinking about creating your own bucket list. Maybe you already have one. Either way, it’s time to rethink what goes on it.
Unfortunately, a typical North American’s bucket list is about as predictable as a Russian election: travel to Europe, go bungee jumping, go white-water rafting, go sky diving, run a marathon.
If an alien species ever visited our planet and subsequently reviewed thousands of bucket lists in an attempt to understand human beings, they might surmise that a good life is a relatively simple affair. Just travel around, jump from high places, and test your physical endurance. The epitome of a perfect life is an Amazing Race contestant.
Obviously there’s more to life than a series of climatic experiences. Although bucket lists are not inherently bad, they are often comprised of trivial and superficial objectives — many of which are underpinned by blatant consumerist mentality. In the first-world consumer culture, experiences are everything. You don’t buy a car; you buy a driving experience. You don’t buy a steak dinner; you buy a dining experience. When self-indulgent experiences become the measure of one’s life, it’s easy to forget about our duty towards others. When we publicize our bucket lists, we are also making a statement to others about how to live. If our bucket lists are only filled with hedonistic pursuits we are, in effect, teaching others how to act. A bucket list is a representation of what society deems valuable.
Certainly, goal setting and following through on one’s initiatives is commendable — assuming they are noble and worthwhile. A common bucket list goal is “to be a contestant on Survivor”. Not exactly uplifting for humanity. For many of the world’s population the goal is simple: feed the family and keep a roof over their heads. To a mother living in Somalia, there is no time to think about skydiving. For a father living in Cuba, a trip to Europe is out of the question. While many of the privileged are busy boasting about their latest life-changing escapades others are struggling to put food on the table.
You might be thinking, that I’ve missed the point. Bucket lists aren’t supposed to be about others, you might say; they are all about the individual. However, individualism is the problem. All too often, a bucket list is nothing more than a vehicle for egocentric self-aggrandizement. It’s a way to boast about your experiences. It’s a way to brag. Surely, some people keep their bucket lists private, but the vast majority shouts it out to the world whenever they succeed in striking a goal from their list.
It’s time to rethink what goes on a bucket list. A bucket list that includes charitable, altruistic goals and activities has the potential to improve our lives and the lives of those around us. Imagine if the bucket list phenomenon could be refocused from a primarily self-centred affair, to one that included doing good deeds for others. Imagine if your friend on Facebook bragged about volunteering at a soup kitchen instead of riding in a limo.
Bucket lists can provide powerful motivation and help people enjoy and even improve their own lives. Learning new skills, paying off debts, reuniting with friends and improving one’s health are certainly worthwhile ways to spend time. Although a bucket list is always going to have a personal focus, it need not be exclusively self-centred. Start a non-profit organization; take a homeless person out for dinner; buy a musical instrument for a child who can’t afford one; help someone learn to read, bring a sick person flowers, give blood, clean up litter in a city park, adopt an abused animal. Now that’s a bucket list worth bragging about.