Are bucket lists beneficial? Do they actually help us set and attain goals? Or do they just set us up for disappointment by creating a tangible representation of the goals we fail to meet?

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C. S. Lewis

Can you believe we’ve only been talking about bucket lists for only a little more than a decade? Sure, some people might have made a list of things they wanted to do before they die; but the term wasn’t a part of our lexicon and something on so many minds.

That was then. Once the 2007 film, “The Bucket List” featured fan favorites Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman depicting terminally ill men checking off their to-do lists before they die, we all wanted to do the same. In fact, Provision Living’s survey of 2,000 respondents found that just 4 percent didn’t have a bucket list of some sort.

In case you’ve been out of the loop for the past decade… a bucket list contains items you want to complete before you kick the bucket. While cancer-stricken children might wish to visit Disneyland or meet their favorite superstar, most adults’ bucket lists pertain to not only travel, but also career, financial and even spiritual goals. The most desired items on Provision Living’s respondents’ lists included skydiving, winning the lottery and having children.

Are bucket lists beneficial? Do they actually help us set and attain goals? Or do they just set us up for disappointment by creating a tangible representation of the goals we fail to meet? One casual study of hospice patients in the United Kingdom found that focusing too much on significant milestones like marriage and children can lead to a loss of focus on everyday opportunities to find happiness.

Even worse, pushing oneself to complete a bucket list could lead to premature death! Experts suspect that more people died while diving at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef because of divers’ advanced age. At some point, some bucket list items might be best left alone.

Are bucket lists really worth it? Will I be happier to meet my goals of staying at one of New York City’s boutique hotels, climbing the Eiffel Tower or swimming in the Pacific Ocean? Or is it better to be content where I am?

Benefits of a Bucket List

AARP Travel researched how travel goals affect people older than 50, and it found that creating such a bucket list provided respondents “a sense of hope and gave them something to look forward to.” Among baby boomers, 53 percent experienced physical benefits as they worked to get into better shape to enjoy their travels.

“Travelling keeps our body and mind active, from planning and creating an itinerary to getting in better physical shape for the trip,” said Denise Austin, a fitness expert, health advocate and AARP ambassador said in a statement.  “Not only can being physically fit help make the vacation more enjoyable, it often leaves us feeling refreshed and rejuvenated when we’re back home.”

Psychologists also believe bucket lists make life more meaningful as they help people accomplish goals. Rather than focusing entirely on the day-to-day grind of life, people who write bucket lists create a physical reminder of their innermost desires. Plus, checking off the list items instills an incredible feeling of satisfaction.

“There is something great about accomplishing your bucket list,” University of Wisconsin psychologist Shilagh Mirgain says. “To have worked toward something that you’ve wanted to experience or achieve gives you an unshakable confidence and can change your perspective of the world.”

Disadvantages of Bucket Lists

Bucket lists can also signify unfulfilled dreams, and what fun is in that? Sure, I would love to someday have tea with the queen, but how likely is that to happen? I might dream of visiting the Great Wall of China, but at some point in my life I will realize I’d have to win the lottery to get there. Will I be less of a person because I’m on a budget?

It’s great to dream, but at some point this girl from small-town, Missouri needs to be realistic. And sky diving? I don’t even want to try it, so is my bucket list for me or everyone else? Plus, what happens if you are fortunate enough to complete your bucket list? Is your life over?

“It’s a way of denying the idea of death, not coping with it at all,” psychologist Linda Blair told the Guardian. “People usually do this to ensure that there are things to look forward to, which means there are things that are still going to happen… My experience warns me that it’s probably done in order to prevent thinking about death.”

Perhaps, then, it’s better to create a life list than focus on a bucket list. Instead of wondering what I want to do before I die, I can think about what I want to be while I’m alive. Rather than competing with others to top their fantastic feats, I should consider what makes me truly happy.

Aside from creating a focus on death rather than life, a bucket list can also create tunnel vision. OK, so I didn’t make it to the Eiffel Tower, but does that mean I should celebrate my weekend getaway to Florida? Or what happens if I make it to Paris, and it storms the whole time I’m there? Can’t I just be happy about my surroundings and not the activities?

Therefore, if and when I get to step off a plane into New York City, I don’t plan to check off a list. What fun is that? Instead, I’ll get a tourist map of the city and experience everything the Big Apple has to offer. When I get to Paris, I won’t focus on only the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, I’ll just enjoy breathing in all that European air and see what adventures await. And if I’m 80 when I make it to Australia, I won’t think it’s still a good idea to dive the reef!


  • Samantha Lile

    Independent Journalist

    A native of southern Missouri, Samantha Lile is a successful web-content creator with a journalism and mass media degree from Missouri State University. She contributes to various web publications from her home in the beautiful Ozarks, where she resides with her husband, four dogs and two cats.