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Hello everybody, welcome to episode 71 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Today’s question calls for some interesting discussion. We’ve got a question that came in about bucket lists — the long forgotten, sort of OG self-help approach before self-help was really a thing. We’re going to consider how the bucket list has evolved and who it’s right for. Here’s the question for today…

QUESTION: “What do you think about people having bucket lists? I never hear it mentioned in self-help books as much as vision boards and stuff like that. It seems like it’s become a really outdated idea. Is a bucket list a good thing to have? How is it any different than other goals people set for themselves that life coaches like yourself talk about regularly?


Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 71 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.


Is a bucket list good to have?

Bucket lists! You’re right. Bucket lists aren’t really talked about anymore. That’s a good catch. I think the last time I heard talk of a bucket list was in that movie The Bucket List with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman from like 2007. Good question. Yeah, let’s talk about bucket lists today and lighten the mood a little bit.

So I think a bucket list is a great thing to have. Ya know, a lot of people are looking for happiness, looking for meaning, wondering what makes their lives worth living. And when we pursue intangible things like these, it’s difficult to know if we’ve gotten them. It’s difficult to know if we are or are not in a certain state of mind, because boundaries are really vague.

Am I truly happy if I sometimes get sad? Am I truly complete when there are still things I want to do? Does my life have enough meaning even though I find myself getting bored several times a week? Chasing after these things is sort of doomed to failure. But we’ll get back to that.

What's the purpose of having a bucket list?

What a bucket list does to overcome that is that it provides measurable forms of progress. If you have these specific events or accomplishments or whatever that you’ve decided are worth doing in the life you’ve been given, you have some sort of roadmap to your definition of a good life. And that’s a wonderful thing. It takes some of the intangibility away, and depending on who you are, makes it easier to breathe and say, “yes, I’ve done what I’ve hoped to do with my life.”

But emphasis on “depending on who you are.” See, a bucket list will only work for those who find value in creating a life worth of those landmarks – a collection of single events that may serve to sum up much of their existence. And lucky for them, you can always keep adding new landmarks to the list to keep working towards, even if they’re less invigorating when you’ve taken care of the big ones first. This is more than enough for some people, particularly the older generations where the norm is a lot of time spent on work, a lot of time spent on family, and little time left to the self.

Checking off items on the bucket list is a way of providing quick hits of fulfillment for people that enjoy this division of priorities. Why? Because items on a bucket list usually – not always – but usually are one and done. They don’t require daily work or maintenance for an extended period of time, so there’s less time taken away from people’s schedules.

Want to swim with dolphins before you die? Take the family to Mexico next time you have vacation time, enjoy yourself, go home and cross “swimming with dolphins” off the bucket list, and go to bed happy. No longstanding discipline required.

Bucket List vs. Goals List

A bucket list item like this was much more normal in the past than the types of goals people set out for nowadays, like starting one’s own business for example. That’s a popular thing to have on vision boards or talk to a life coach about. And that’s because lately, existential crises are in high fashion.

We’re living in a time in which many of us – especially many Westerners – are privileged enough to have all of our needs met. There’s less concern for baseline needs in our lives, so to keep evolving, our focus has now shifted to fulfilling our spiritual needs. That means drawing satisfaction from ourselves rather than exterior sources.

For most people, the dolphins aren’t as exciting anymore as they aren’t experiences we created for ourselves. In our newly burning desire to feel personal fulfillment, we have to keep upping the challenge so there’s something to chase after.

That’s the new, shiny approach that you hear about in the self-help books you mentioned. The bucket list approach is fading away more and more.

Pros and cons of having a bucket list

Now, the pros of the bucket list approach, which shadow the cons of the shiny new approach: self-satisfaction becomes easier, you have more time for other priorities, and there’s less to think about, less neuroticism that is.

The cons of the bucket list approach, which shadow the pros of the shiny new approach: you’re not extracting your full potential, you’re not getting to know yourself as much, and you’re not failing enough to learn.

But the old schoolers who like the bucket list approach probably aren’t concerned with all that new-aged self-improvement jargon anyway, and more power to them.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure there’s much use in forcing either of these approaches on yourself. If you’re naturally inclined to one or the other, I would first accept that inclination and then go from there. I mean maybe you can make some alterations. Maybe you can take some pressure off yourself if you start experimenting with the bucket list approach.

Or maybe you can revitalize your youthful ambition if you start experimenting with the shiny new approach.

It’s different for each person, but if you’re not letting your sources of satisfaction change naturally, you at least need to take a slow and gradual approach to changing them yourself.

——

Hope this cleared things up, my friends, and that everyone has a new perspective on bucket lists. Asker, thank you for sending this question in. Kind of an interesting look at the whole bucket list idea and I really enjoyed exploring it today.

Yet another example of how the idea of goals is unique to everyone. Everybody, keep the questions coming. You know you can ask us anything here on the show and we’ll be happy to help you out and offer a second opinion. Email your questions to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com

We’ll take your questions there and do our best with them. All right? Until the next episode, everybody!


Listen to Greg narrate this post on Episode 71 of the podcast Optimal Living Advice.


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Greg Audino

Greg Audino is a Rhode Island-born certified life coach, actor, and graduate of Goucher College. He is the host of the mental health podcast Optimal Living Advice and narrates dating, marriage, and parenting content over at Optimal Relationships Daily.
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