I always pictured my bucket list being a list of bullet points rather than an ordered list, and I doubt there’s 11 things on there anyway when I actually add it up.
My list contains things I’d like to do such as learn to play an instrument properly and run a marathon (technically I just want to be able to say I’ve run a marathon rather than actually do it). It contains places I’d like to go such as to visit Father Christmas, New York at Christmas and some of the Seven Wonders. It also contains things I’d like to own such as a Mont Blanc fountain pen, although those things aren’t as high up the list.
One thing I will say about a bucket list and death in general is that I’ve been learning recently that you never know when something will happen for the last time. There was an American singer song writer called Warren Zevon who, after being diagnosed with inoperable peritoneal mesothelioma and when asked by Letterman whether he knew something about life and death that Letterman didn’t he responded “Enjoy every sandwich”. It’s a fair point when it comes to a bucket list.
Paul Hannam has written a book called “The Magic of Groundhog Day: Transform Your Life Day by Day” in which he ventures that one could be happier in life by ditching their bucket list altogether. The thought behind this theory is that to be happy now you need to remove the blocks that might be getting in the way. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
Classic examples are the things like “I’ll be happy when I’ve climbed that mountain, or when I’ve lived in that city or when I’ve got abs”. Instead of looking for large life changes to be happy, one could take happiness from small pleasures like a good coffee, a bubble bath or a hug.
The suggestion is to shift your focus from having to get your happiness from seeking new experiences to improving the quality of your life right now.
I can see what Hannam is getting at. We used to do something at work where we were told to look for successes in our days, the idea being that a successful life could be built up from a lot of small things one would not always consider a “success”. It echoes the Stone Soup story whereby everyone adds their own little bit to a boiling pot of water to create an amazing soup. Hannam is also exploiting a thought that I share of not necessarily looking for perfection but accepting that perfection can rarely happen, so to avoid disappointment and stress you can actually achieve happiness by aiming a little lower than what is generally perceived as perfect to what is perfect for you.
The second part is that if you focus simply on long term goals and define your happiness by those goals 10 or 20 years in the future, you won’t be happy in the mean time. I remember being bought a toy as a kid but not being able to open it until we got home! That journey home was a nightmare!
Or you could assume that because that thing in 10 or 20 years time will happen, you forget that 10 or 20 years is a long way off. It’s like deciding that someone is the perfect partner for you and that you want to spend your life with them but then choosing never to see them either because you assume they’ll always be there or because you’re now only interested in the idea of a future with them rather than actually, well, them.
But I also feel that, in another way, Hannam’s suggestion is a bit of a cop out. Essentially he’s telling us to embrace our rut. I feel that his idea is essentially a suggestion not to set targets due to risk of failure.
I’m sure some people I know would call me a hypocrite if they read this, but there’s a difference in knowing something won’t happen so not doing it when you know failure is the only option than thinking that it might happen in the future so working for it. I know that I won’t be flying to the moon tomorrow, but in 20 years maybe I could.
I remember reading something once upon time about how we reward children. If a child draws their parents a picture and presents it to them, the parents may say “What’s this? Oh, what a beautiful picture – thank you! We love you so much!”. The structure of the conversation implies that they love the child because of the picture so the child thinks they need to continue drawing to earn the parents’ affection. If the parents started with “We love you so much” before looking at the picture, it’s confirmation that they love their child irrespective of their artistic skills.
In Paper Towns when Quentin is helping Margo plan her 9 missions, she turns to him and says:
So what, you’re going to go to college, get married, have kids and then you’ll be happy, when you’re 30? Is that what you’re saying? Isn’t there anything that could make you happy now?
This is what I understand Hannam is getting at. Instead of saying “I’ll be happy when I’ve visited every continent” the sentence should be “I’m happy and I’d love to see the world”.
As with everything, there are shades of grey. It feels a little two faced to say that I’m happy right now given what’s happening in certain parts of my life, but I’m able to take pleasure from what is around me right now while keeping in mind that there are also things in the future that will make me happy and are worth working for. Cross the bridge when you get to it.