Want to Live Better? Write a Bucket List

When we think about bucket lists, we think about dying: fitting in those major goals or last few accomplishments before we, well… kick the bucket. But a bucket list doesn’t belong in such a narrow bucket (tee hee!), because creating and carrying out a bucket list is actually a great way to live.


Long-Term Goals Mean Long-Term Happiness


We all know that goal-setting is a great strategy for making us more successful. But the act of setting goals can actually make us feel happier and more fulfilled, as well. Research shows that individuals who feel meaning and purpose in life report much higher levels of contentment. Plus, when we set and reach a goal (even a small one) our brains release feel-good chemicals like dopamine as a celebration.


When you create a bucket list, you combine vision and purpose to make a personal statement about your life. It’s like goal-setting on steroids. Your bucket list is a list of long-term goals meant to reflect your values and your purpose in life. As you fulfill that list, your sense of contentment grows, and your happiness right along with it. If you need a little help setting goals that will actually lead to happiness, I like the advice in this Fast Company article.


The Science of Savoring


Getting something you want is terrific. Setting a goal and reaching it is terrific. But research suggests that WAITING to get what you want – a process called “savoring” – can lead to even greater enjoyment. When we wait for our desire to be fulfilled, and we anticipate how great it’s going to be when it arrives, we appreciate it even more when we finally get it. (Check out this research if you want to know more about how savoring works.)


A bucket list is the ultimate opportunity for savoring. We imagine the most epic experiences of our lives, write them down, and then make a plan to bring them to life someday. We may have months or years to dream about the activity, and all those days of imagining actually make the experience even richer when it arrives. Savoring gives us enjoyment in the present, while we imagine the event, plus maximizes our enjoyment in the future, when we finally jump out of the plane, record an album, or make pastries in Italy.


Wouldn’t You Like More Power Over Your Life?


Did you know that success is transferrable? When you experience a “win” in some area of your life, your personal power receives a boost that carries over into all the different environments in your life. In my second book, The Successful Struggle, I researched how having a successful moment in your home life helps you increase your sense of personal power if you’re struggling at work. Achievements in any area of your life carry over into all the areas of your life, making you feel more powerful and in control.


As you tick items off your bucket list, your personal power grows, giving you fuel to accomplish more at home, at work, in your hobbies, and everywhere. By nurturing your sense of accomplishment, your bucket list will generate returns far beyond just experiencing the activities you’ve written down.



So what’s on your bucket list?


I started thinking about bucket lists at last week’s board meeting for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The LLS Team in Training program is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I know is a bucket list item for several people. I haven’t decided if that’s really on my list yet, but if it’s on yours, you could travel to Africa, climb Kili, AND raise money to fight cancer, all in one fell swoop. If you go, write me and let me know so I can donate to your climb!


As for me, my first book was a major bucket list item, as was starting both of my businesses, moving to New York at 17, and getting certified to SCUBA dive. I’ve still never been to Paris (I know! Can you believe it?!?!) or many other places I’d like to visit. I know it’s cliché, but I’d really like to sky dive (bungee jumping, on the other hand, holds no appeal to me).


Grab a journal and a nice pen, and crank out a first draft of a bucket list. A bucket list isn’t about dying, it’s about living. So get to it.