Are “Bucket Lists” a Good Thing?

On: March 20, 2017

By Pamela Leland, PhD, Executive Director 

We can debate elsewhere whether or not we are in the midst of a collective existential crisis.

What I do know is that I am being inundated with emails and social media posts related to “creating your bucket list” or “things we’ll regret when we get old” or “what those who are dying can teach us.” These are typically a compilation of things we’ll regret one day – everything from not spending enough time with your children to not going on that dream vacation to not saving money for retirement to not taking better care of your teeth.

Regardless of what may be included in any particular list, there is clearly some stirring, some sentiment, or maybe, simply, anxiety suggesting that we need to start paying more attention to our lives.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I welcome the wisdom of our Elders. I believe that those who are approaching the end-of-life, regardless of age, have much to offer and teach us. I find it a cruel irony that we ignore the knowledge being offered to us by those who have learned the hard way, for themselves, by going through their own fires.

But I confess to resisting these kinds of media posts. In exploring my resistance, I’ve come to the conclusion that they bother me for two reasons. First, I am offended for those without the financial resources to plan for round-the-world vacations or scuba-diving in the Bahamas or taking a year off from work to “pursue your passion.” Suggesting that everyone has the capacity to create a bucket list is both arrogant and without sensitivity and compassion.

But my larger reaction is that these emails suggest that, apparently, a lot of us are going through our lives without thought and without intention. For some, the day-to-day demands of life – raising children, paying the bills, caring for family members, putting one step in front of the other – take our time and energy. Others may simply be sleep-walking through their lives, not realizing that living fully is about making choices. Regardless of cause, we can forget that decisions about our lives will be made – either by our action or our inaction. When we finally wake up to this fact, it is too late. We reach the end of our lives confronted with our regrets.

So maybe bucket lists and lists of “life lessons” are useful things. Maybe they can help us realize what is most important. Maybe they invite us to pay more attention to the choices that we make and consider the consequences and implications of our lack of action. Maybe they can be a tool to help us live each day with intention. As the bumper sticker reminds us – Life is not a dress rehearsal!

No one wants to end their life with regrets; we would probably all agree that sleepwalking through life is no life. Poet and novelist Stephen Vincent Benet reminded us of this when he wrote, “Life is not lost by dying! Life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand, small, uncaring ways.” It is up to each of us to pay attention and embrace the choices in front of us.

So what is on your bucket list?

 Printed in the Daily Local News, March 20, 2017