THE ANTI-BUCKET LIST
Bucket lists are fun - I have one myself. But let me play the devil’s advocate, and suggest that happiness is not to be found in grand occasions and brag-worthy achievements. Bucket lists are often packed, not with actual ambitions, but with things we think we’re supposed to want.
THINGS NOT TO BOTHER DOING BEFORE YOU KICK THE BUCKET
Bungee jumping | Skydiving Hang gliding | Whitewater rafting | Wrestling an angry grizzly bear
Adrenaline junkies have a way of telling everyone to be like them: shout ‘you only live once’ and jump out of a plane. But you can get that heart-racing, terrifying-but-satisfying experience with your feet on the ground - delivering a first lecture at college, asking your crush for a date. Those profound experiences count, too - what matters is how you feel, not how loudly you scream.
THINGS YOU DON’T NEED TO SEE BEFORE YOU KICK THE BUCKET The Mona Lisa | The Parthenon | Macchu Picchu | Angkor Wat
Standing in line for hours, to see a small dark portrait from ten metres away, for sixty seconds, is not worthy of your ambition. The world is full of wonderful art in local museums and in galleries selling the fine work of your neighbours. Yes, Michelangelo’s Pietà is transcendent, but will it feed your soul as much as owning a dozen pieces that speak to you, personally, today, the way Renaissance works spoke to its patrons? Because you can do now what they did then - give artists the support they need to create.
CLICHÉS NOT TO EMBRACE BEFORE YOU KICK THE BUCKET
Beach holidays in Bali, or any other tropical paradise | $1000 Broadway shows | 13-star restaurants that serve food in test tubes
Which makes the better story: ‘One time, we had a fancy dinner in Manhattan, and went to see Hamilton,’ or ‘One time, I attended a live performance every Saturday night for a whole year - I know every theatre in this city! Now, the craziest thing I ever saw on stage was…’? Would you rather tell your friends: ‘I once dined at Le Bistro Prétentieux, and the $200 appetizer was fresh Jovian cloud - jellyfish, flown in by astral courier,’ or ‘I spent a summer at the Italian Cultural Centre, learning Italian, cooking Venetian seafood dishes - actually, that’s where I met your godmother’?
You want great stories to tell your grandkids, sure, but a hundred small achievements or experiences produce better stories - and way more friends to tell them to.
THE PINNACLE OF ALL THINGS NOT TO DO BEFORE YOU KICK THE BUCKET Climb Mount Everest
If you’re a great climber, Everest isn’t even a trophy anymore, because hundreds of duffers have been carried guided to the top, debasing the achievement. The main route has scores of climbers standing in line. Plus, you have to climb past the frozen corpses of your literal predecessors. Seriously, it’s a horror movie up there.
Life is full of scary challenges, achievements that call for great courage and grit - raising a disabled kid, overcoming childhood trauma, working in an oncology ward. Your Everest moment may come when grateful peers recognize your unsung, lifelong generosity. Not as good for your ego, much better for your soul.
Happiness, we know, depends not on the intensity of life events, but on their frequency. A year after the lottery, winners are about as happy or unhappy as they were before the big event - and so are paraplegics a year after their accident. So, ditch the bucket list full of clichés, and do something satisfying and memorable, right where you are, right now. I promise you, it’ll make you happier.