The Two Types Of The Bucket Lists

December 3, 2012

bucketlistSince the 2007 movie, the phrase the Bucket List has entered the vernacular. It is a wish list of activities a person hopes to accomplish before he “kicks the bucket”. The internet is crammed with people’s lists, inspired by the movie, they consist of thrills: hang-gliding off the Grand Canyon, climbing Mount Everest and so on. But really, will accomplishing  high-risk thrills allow you to leave the world more fulfilled, more whole?

In that era before the Jack Nicholson movie (when fire had been newly discovered and my loin cloth of choice was saber-tooth) we complied out lists while young, not after a fatal illness. We called these our life’s goals, and these too were about the things we wished to achieve before our time was up.

During the 80s I had a young tenant in my house who absconded without paying his rent. He left me to clean up his mess, among which was his diary. What impressed me most, about this unimpressive youth, was this one entry: My goal in life is to be happy all of the time. 

It seemed to me this was an entry worthy of anyone’s Bucket List, particularly when the list is complied at the beginning of adult life. While no one would disagree with the pursuit of happiness, there is debate about the definition of happiness. For me thrills are about pleasure, not happiness. Excitement and sense stimulation are pleasing as long the stimulus lasts. The joy of those moments does not stay in the memory.

The contentment of good relationships, the fulfillment of helping others, the peace of mind from doing the right thing–these are all things which have mileage. They last even beyond the grave.

Common wisdom says that we leave the world empty-handed. I wonder if that is really true. Is it possible that we take our character with us into the hereafter? The pursuit of goodness, and the cultivation of inner peace might then be ‘transferrable skills’ in the world beyond.

Even if we don’t believe in any kind of hereafter, then surely we have accept that we will live on the memories of the people whom we leave behind. I wonder what they might say about us at our wake?

“That Frank, he was a miserable S.O.B. He was tyrant who was rude to everyone,  but bless him, he did manage to swim with the dolphins before he died. And that’s what I’ll remember about Frank. Not his mean-spiritedness, not the pettiness, but that he fulfilled all of his Bucket List.”

Really? Will anyone ever say that?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against making a Bucket List. I am simply questioning the importance given to costly and high-risk thrills. To me it feels like some giant marketing scam to get you to spend your savings on the frivolous.

Why not leave behind a legacy of good works, of grateful people, of fond memories. I think touching another’s heart is for keeps. After my heart attack I had many angels taking care of me, but one nurse stands out. Her name was Kayla and I felt she tended to me above and beyond her duties. There was a compassion in how she nursed me. While many things from that difficult time are a haze ( I was heavily medicated and hallucinating), the memory of Kayla is clear and fresh. She touched me beyond what the eyes can perceive.

Touching as many hearts as possible is at the top of my Bucket List. And it does not cost a penny. My personal list is made up entirely of items along the same vein.

Spreading happiness to as many people as possible.

Leaving no unresolved conflicts.

To find goodness:

I may not achieve all or any of these before death, but I’ll die trying. It seems to me the effort is worth more than success. Because the effort multiplies in unexpected ways. That I think is the main difference these and the thrills type of Bucket Lists. I am reminded of the character of Larry in Somerset Maugham’s best novel The Razor’s Edge. In the end he found “goodness” and the author felt sure that he would attract many others to goodness “like moths to a flames”. That Larry would leave the world a better place than he found it. But Climbing Everest?—not so much.


4 Responses to “The Two Types Of The Bucket Lists”

  1. Colin said

    Nice post. I like your list. I wouldn’t have thought of “Leaving no unresolved conflicts”, but it is akin to what mother’s always tell their children: “Clean up after yourself”.

  2. Mike said

    I really like this post. In a way it is a thoughtful critique of our selfish culture of thrill-seeking. It has to be said though that there would be a huge amount of self-discipline involved in climbing Mount Everest. Having that sort of self-discipline could be part of the good character that you are suggesting we should have. But overall really like what you’ve said.

  3. harmonie said

    I love what you said! Our culture is so material-oriented and tries to program us to want things of a physical nature rather than things of a spiritual nature. I liked your list; it reflects desires that I, too, seek to experience in this life : ) Thanks.

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