Research has shown that if you want to get a thing done, it helps to write it down. A 2011 study by profs at Wake Forest found that unfinished tasks incite distraction, and simply making a loose plan can ease stress and anxiety. When done right, a bucket list should function as your life’s biggest to-do list. Pick up dry cleaning. Rake lawn. See sunset from hot air balloon over Buddhist temples of Bagan, Myanmar. Defrost chicken. Floss.
Done wrong, though, a bucket list can become a domineering reminder of how your life hasn’t turned out the way you expected, a self-made source of FOMO.
Megan Bruneau, a psychotherapist and wellness coach who writes extensively on mental health, warns travelers not to overcommit. “Bucket lists can make people feel like they’re not enough until they’ve done X, Y, Z,” she says. Likewise, don’t let social media dictate the expectations for travel plans, lest rich kids make you hate your own life.
“It’s important for people to understand the reasoning behind their lists -- not just to go skydiving to put it on Instagram, at which point it becomes attached to ego,” Bruneau says. “Ask yourself: ‘If no one knew I was going to do this thing, if it didn’t become this story I would tell at a party, would I still want to do it?’”
She suggests making a bucket list then putting it away for a while -- or forgetting about it completely, as I did -- so that it continues to be an exercise in dreaming and healthy goal setting, instead of a source of pressure.
“The point is not to do everything on the list, but to let yourself fantasize,” she says. “Let those positive experiences create hope and inspire you. The moment you start putting it up on your wall and obsessing over it, you risk the list becoming draconian and self-punishing.”