Sure it looks pretty, but you know it's really cold there, right?

Always on the lookout for cool present ideas for DH I recently quizzed him as to whether he would like a flying lesson. It’s like one of those Red Letter Day, special one day experience type of things, and we live practically next door to a small air port. “It’s a bit pointless really, as it’s not like I could afford to keep having lessons”. “But it’s an experience,” I replied, “You can say you’ve done it”. His lack of interest surprised me. After all doesn’t everyone hanker after these once-in-a-lifetime experiences so that they can, um, relive it in their heads, and tell random strangers in the supermarket queue? Doesn’t everyone have a “bucket list”?


Bucket lists are all the rage on the internet. Actually, they are probably even a little passé given that the idea , or at least the term, stemmed from a 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The idea is that you compile a list, and presumably attempt to fulfil that list, of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. Actually, the idea goes back to the book 100 Things to Do Before You Die, published in 1999, spawning myriad copies such as 101 Things To Do Before You Die, 101 Whiskies to Drink Before You Die, and 101 Places to Have Sex Before You Die.


Dave Freeman, co-author of the original book died in 2008, at the young age of 47, having only completed about half of the things in his book. This was described by many as “ironic”, which seems terribly sad. To be remembered for what you haven’t done rather than what you have done seems to defeat the purpose of the book. You don’t get a prize for completing the list.


People’s bucket lists seem to me to be mostly narcissistic, hedonistic, and seem to cost a lot of money. Even in today’s economic climate we have far more disposable income than ever, so flying a plane, climbing K2 or exploring the Amazon are no longer the preserve of the uber wealthy. For only a few hundred pounds you can drive a Lamborghini round a race track. Also, with more leisure time and resources anyone can write a novel, learn a language, get a degree (they might not necessarily do these things well).


Exploring is important, I understand. That’s how we got to the moon, part of what makes us human is a desire to explore. But do we really need another man, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, rowing solo across the Atlantic, while his poor wife and children are left at home, not knowing if he will return? And driving across America in a Cadillac isn’t quite following in the footsteps of the Pioneers.


People seem intent on collecting new experiences. To what end? What good does a one-off flying lesson do? Sure you trekked to the Arctic, but what have you actually gained, apart from frostbite and a few stories? Even if you have found some sort of inner strength and resilience on your trip, how have you helped anyone else (DON’T get me started on so called “Charity Treks”). Well, at least you have something to talk about at dinner parties.


Bragging rights aside, it would seem that whether they last for 2 minutes, on the world’s tallest roller coaster, or two weeks, climbing up a Mount Everest, we remember the most intense of our experiences rather than the sum of them. Daniel Kahneman called this the Peak-End Rule, we remember the peaks, and also how the experience ended, and not much about in between. This means that you remember that memorable elephant ride in Thailand, but not the dysentery in the first week, the horrendous queues at the airport, and getting your wallet stolen. Was it worth it?


Meh. I'd rather be snuggled up with a bar of Galaxy. My dreams aren't this lofty.

There is a certain lack of spontaneity and joy in collecting experiences to tick off your bucket list, like a train spotter ticking off the latest rolling stock. When your foot is about to make contact with the metaphorical bucket, is the time you saw the Northern Lights going to be flashing before your eyes? Or trekking Machu Picchu? Well, according to Kahneman, probably. But will it make you satisfied with your life? How will these things have helped other people in your life? Will your life be more worthy than someone who didn’t read the Complete Works of Shakespeare, or learn to play the piano?


That’s not to say that goals aren’t important in life. I’m very goal-oriented myself. Goals are essential for motivation, and even far-reaching dreams can be inspirational. But life is a journey, full of surprises, which can often leave the best memories. And sometimes the best times are those snuggled up on the sofa with the ones you love, watching re-runs of the West Wing, with a tub of Hagan Daaz. I’d rather do that than skydive any day.

14 thoughts on “Why I don’t have a bucket list

  1. Oh, interesting post.

    I did a bucket list recently and found it was really hard to find things that were not to be achieved just by throwing money at it. Some of mine were, some were not.

    None of them are skydiving or anything more energetic than getting in a lift or driving a car. Not sure what that says about me.

  2. I completely agree with this post. It seems that lately, people make bucketlists just for the sake of having a bucketlist. And it’s not filled with things they *actually* want to do; it’s a long list of things that would make them look cool when they do it.
    Me, I’m happiest with the small stuff 🙂 Sitting on my sofa, looking at my handmade things, sleeping in, cooking dinner each day, being with the one I love.
    It can be just that simple 🙂
    Anyway – very interesting post!

    1. It’s so true that these activities are often just for the sake of being cool. I’m reading an excellent book called The Hapiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, and one of the things she discusses is a tendency to try out new hobbies because you feel like you should, or because you want to like them, rather than being true to yourself.

      For me one of the things is realising that while it is important to keep up with what is going on in the world, I’m never going to be an expert in International Relations. And it’s not because I didn’t do it as a degree. If I really wanted to be an expert I’d be half way there by now, instead of not actually being able to locate Burma on a map!

  3. I have a bucket list and aim for 5-10 things a year. I achieved 6 last year. Some are small and some are big.

    This year might be able to achieve a couple of big ones and a few small ones. Important thing is it has to be personal to you and what would make you feel good.

    A friend’s mum went all the way to china then refused to go see the wall of china as she preferred to go shopping. That wasn’t the right experience for her.

  4. I like your thoughts on buket lists not being about spending lots of money.

    Think if I had one it would mostly be comrpised of making peace wth people and learning lots of new skills, like sewing or swimming.

  5. There are a few things I would like to do when my children are older and a few things I am beginning to put into place now which will lead to things, such as starting a small business (redundancy beckons but will be months away if it happens). Learning the piano, teaching my children the recorder, doing a pattern cutting course.

    When they are older I would like to do some things like go on a Norwegian or Alaskan cruise, to go whale watching. A cruise where you have to wear long dresses to dine really do not appeal, nor do lots of holidays that other people go on. I think we are all different, but some people get a bit swept away with ideas based on what other people have done. There are other places I would like to go but they are more of a dream/when we win the lottery type trip. But we all need dreams don’t we?

    As to the charity treks, I too think why and what is the point? Especially the non-charity ones where someone is the first/youngest/oldest to do something that serves no purpose such as walk to the North Pole/sail single-handedly somewhere etc. Such a waste of time and effort.

    More important to benefit other people, even if it is ‘only’ your family.

  6. It is nice to have dreams, but often people forget the importance of the small everyday things (myself included). If we could devote our energies to enjoying the moment and appreciating what we have. Get to know ourselves and those around us better. But maybe it’s not in our nature. Or maybe we all need to escape what becomes humdrum, or unbearable and these dreams of trekking across the Antarctic takes us outside ourselves. I don’t know.

  7. This is a great post, and very interesting discussion point. I agree with you, I do NOT want to skydive, just to say I did it, or for any other reason. I don’t have a bucket list – I do want to travel to certain places and perhaps do some whale-watching, and I’m keen to pick up some new skills along the way – but in the main I’m content to be cuddled up on a comfy sofa, with my family, watching telly and eating nice food/drinking nice wine. Simple pleasures are the best!

  8. I don’t have a list as such, but I do like to challenge myself to get out of the ‘comfort zone’ and do things that some people might call experiential. Skydiving could be one thing to one person, maybe a quick thrill you can then talk about in the pub and that’s it, or something else to someone else, maybe challenging their fear of heights, in order to ‘get over it’, and like you say, develop inner strength. When I have done such things in my life, I find It builds my confidence , therefore I am happier with myself, and therefore more able to lend a hand to others. Good post. X

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