Reverse Bucket List: an exercise in gratitude

I’ve already admitted that I enjoy making lists and that there’s one for any occasion, so it was just a matter of time before I mentioned the bucket list. The phrase has been around since a Hollywood movie brought it into popular culture in 2007 (I honestly didn’t know that this term is so recent, but it seems that there’s no evidence bucket list was used before 2006), but just for those of my readers who are not familiar with the expression: a bucket list is a list of things that one wishes to do, see, or accomplish before they proverbially kick the bucket, or, in other words, die.

Morbid much? Apparently, people seem to have more problems with BLs. According to some claims, bucket lists make it easier to endlessly put off doing all those amazing things, as the end of your life is too vague of a deadline (no pun intended). Well, I guess I can relate. Even though I understand that making your dreams priorities is tough and what usually stands in the way is, like, you know, regular life, I can definitely see where the critique is coming from. While I truly enjoy planning future travels and activities with my partner and adding new items to our (multiple!) digital lists, I rarely block time in my calendar to actually go through with them. 

List all the things!

Using my personal example, I always dreamed about doing the Camino de Santiago hike on my own. I came up with this idea years ago, when I was still a student and going on a month-long holiday wasn’t that big of a deal – I know that embarking on that adventure would be extremely difficult for me now, especially since I live on a completely different continent. Had I made that commitment six years ago, I would be richer for the experience today.

Another argument, often made by travel bloggers, is that a BL reduces the scope of your experience instead of deepening it, and that you may end up ticking activities off your list in the same manner you’d tick off grocery items while shopping. I can partly agree on that, I love a good rant about the dangers of consumerism as much as the next person. Between the rapid growth of the so-called Experience Industry, commodification of the cultural attractions around the world, and the modern corruption of the natural wonders (Thailand had to close three islands to tourists in order to protect the environment, for goodness sake!), genuine experiences seem more and more difficult to find.

While I could agree with the above arguments, I also believe that those problems stem from the very superficial treatment of the Bucket List concept. As guys from the Live Your List put it, “it’s not about doing crazy stuff for the sake of adrenaline” but about improving your life and living up to your full potential. Ryan Eller sums it up beautifully in his TEDx Talk:

Live with intention.

In order to make the Bucket List truly work for you, you need to be intentional about it – it’s less about listing all the cool things that you’ve seen on National Geographic, and more about making a conscious decision to achieve something worthwhile. If you are worried that you can’t seem to fit your dreams into your busy schedule, Trav Bell, The Bucket List Guy, has some wise words about making the commitment and integrating your BL into your life plan. You can listen to him discuss it here. If you need some inspiration on how to enjoy life responsibly and ethically – this is definitely a conversation worth having – you can read more about it here and here.

And if you want to reflect on your past achievements, try putting together a Reverse Bucket List. On the one hand, it encourages you to reflect on your past decisions and gives you this “How did I get here?” moment. On the other hand, it’s a great way to practice gratitude – especially, if you think to yourself “I never thought I would do that” at least once. It’s a really fun list to make, so I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who needs a bit of a motivation boost.

My Reverse Bucket List

When I look back at my life, the first thing that comes to my mind are travel destinations and unique experiences. So many precious memories:

  • Joined the crowd celebrating the Bastille Day on Champs-Élysées in Paris.
  • Played retro video games in Akihabara in Tokyo.
Otaku paradise
  • Enjoyed a proper caña in Malasaña, Madrid’s hottest neighbourhood.
  • Breathed sharp Atlantic air one cloudy morning on an empty beach on the western coast of Ireland.
  • Listened to a German brass band while sipping Glühwein on a Christmas market in Frankfurt am Main.
  • Attended an exceptional coffee tasting experience in Oslo.
  • Came to truly appreciate canned fish after spending a lovely evening in this little bar in Lisbon.
  • Watched the sunset from the top of the Empire State Building.
New York on a cold winter afternoon
  • Lived and worked in London for almost a year.

And finally…

  • Moved to Singapore.

I know that I want to experience more things like that. I have some thoughts of how to get there, so tomorrow I’ll make a new, better bucket list for myself, and one that I’ll stick to.


1 Comment

  1. I was not aware of the reverse bucket list thing, it might be interesting to do one myself!
    I like your article anyway 🙂


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