Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A History of the Bucket List and Why We Make Lists of Things to Do Before Death


To sky dive, to fly a plane, to run a marathon: all of these goals are popular candidates for bucket lists. The term "bucket list" refers to a list of things to do before you die. It has an ambiguous history - we may never determine exactly where the phrase came from. One thing that's not fuzzy, however, is the power that bucket lists wield to make people feel accomplished and fulfilled. The following article explores the origins and purpose of the bucket list.

Where the Term "Bucket List" Came From

There's no consensus as to the origin of this term. Most believe it to be derived from the phrase "to kick the bucket," which means to die. That term itself, however, is on shaky historical grounds. It dates back at least to the 1700s and has a grisly history. Criminals sentenced to be hanged would stand on a bucket while the executioner tied a noose around their necks. The job done, the executioner would then "kick the bucket" to let the prisoner swing to his or her death. That's one potential starting point for our modern phrase. In another version of the story, "kicking the bucket" refers to animal rather than human death. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, butchers in Norfolk, England would hang their pigs from barn beams, which in local slang turned into "buckets." Some pigs protested their fate violently, writhing so hard that their feet would "kick the bucket." From one or both of these terms, we've gotten our phrase for a list of goals to accomplish before we die. The term "bucket list" entered the popular vocabulary after the popular film of that name was released in 2007. In the film, two terminal patients, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, travel around their world to cross items from their lists. The influential film caused of wave of bucket-list-writing that has continued to this day.

Why We Like To Make Bucket Lists

What is it about these lists that our culture finds so compelling? Everyone fosters dreams of the things they could accomplish if they had the money, time, or energy. But in our heads, these dreams tend to stay dreams; most of us need a push to turn them into reality. A bucket list helps to transform our airy ideas into concrete goals, made real by their written status and made possible because we acknowledge them. The best bucket list items push you beyond the limits of comfort. Often they include travel (to take a safari in Africa), skill acquisition (to build your own car from scratch), feats of daring (to go bungee-jumping), and feats of athleticism (to bike across a continent). No matter what, checking these or other items off of your bucket list should make you feel brave, interesting, and accomplished. In other words, they should make you feel like you could die feeling fulfilled as a person. People create bucket lists because they like to feel that their lives are streamlined toward purpose and excitement. Bucket lists encourage people to quit wasting time and to chase the things they want most from life.

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  1. I agree, sometimes, all we need is a little push to accomplish the things we want to.

  2. For me it's a simple way of saying, "here are the things I want to do before I die." But I always love the idea of having a bucket list, so I can worry only on things that I really want to do.

  3. I have my bucket list since I was 5. It is like an inspiration, a secret goal that I always refer to and work hard for to put a check on. I didn't realize that I will actually check most of them to think I had thought about them when I was 5 years old. God has really a way of making things happen if you only work hard and believe that it will. I have added more in the list and hopefully, I can tick most of them while I can.

  4. The movie "The Bucket List" with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman was such an eye opener. Two men with only a few months to live were able to do everything they put on their list. I wish I could do the same. I only have 10 in my list and I haven't put a check mark on any of them yet. In 3 years, I would get my first check mark - to have had seen all my children graduate from college. :)

    My dream destination is to see the beauty of Batanes. I hope I could have the chance to travel there and go hiking before my joints get rendered immobile by arthritis. Haha.

    Thank you Betchai. May we all accomplish our mission in life and to do what God has planned for us.

  5. I guess a bucket list is our subconscious mind reminding us of our mission in life. This could be the reason why the determination to accomplish everything on the list is so strong. I am looking forward to my first tick mark in 2-3 years from now.. by then all my children would have graduated from college.

    I put my trust in God. He holds the blueprint of my life. I am only the executor of His plan. Without His guidance, I will not be able to accomplish anything.

    "The Bucket List" starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman is a very good movie. It makes us realize that we should not be concerned with worldly possessions, instead, we should act in ways that would inspire others to do nothing else but good things.