Bucket lists – what do they really tell us about human nature?

 Call me old fashioned if you will, but I don’t really get bucket lists. Or rather, I absolutely understand what they tell us about modern life and I find it dispiriting.

Bucket lists suggest that life is just a series of largely unconnected experiences; the more experiences the richer your life. 50 things to do before you’re 50. 101 things to do before you die and so on. The more things you do the more complete a person you are. The more you have lived.

The phrase ‘bucket list’ comes from a 2007 film of the same name in which two terminally ill men, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, take a road trip to work their way through a wish list of things to do before they ‘kick the bucket’. My concerns are absolutely not directed at terminally ill people who wish to achieve certain things before they die, but rather with those (most of us to judge by a quick trawl of the internet) who treat life as a series of individual projects generally aimed at giving ourselves a great time.

We are part of the ‘Because I’m worth it’ generation and it feels uncomfortable at times.

I have two concerns:

Firstly, what happens after we have ticked off each experience? I imagine that once we have moved from swimming with dolphins to eating fire we will continually seek ever more extreme experiences without pausing to learn from them. I imagine that we will find it increasingly difficult to appreciate our own daily routine if we compare it with the items on our bucket list.

Secondly, how will our bucket list add to the sum happiness of society? I would argue that we should spend less time thinking about personal fulfilment and more time considering how we can improve our communities for everyone. I would suggest a long-term commitment to voluntary work lasting months or years as something we should all aspire to rather than a series of transitory events.

In an increasingly secular society, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the cult of the self has gained such primacy. Many people struggle to see a broader purpose to life than charging through it head down.
I hope, that in a school like St Swithun’s, we offer principles for living which will guide everyone, with or without a faith. Our ethos is not about sating ourselves regardless of other, but about seeking to give of ourselves.


Jane Gandee, Headmistress, St Swithun’s

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