I came late to the idea of the bucket list. My interest was firmly un-piqued by the sheer oddity of the phrase: Was it primarily a bucket or a list? Was it a list of buckets?

Was it a bucket in which you could keep your many lists? Was there a list of buckets after which aficionados of the pail lusted?

I did know my ignorance reduced the number of aggravations in my life. I didn't have to worry about how big my bucket should be, or how long my list.

When I found out it was essentially a list of things you should do before you died - or kicked the bucket - I assumed it had an ancient lineage.


There was a movie about having a bucket list. It was obviously something everybody else had been doing for generations.

In fact, it was only when I came to write this column that I learned the bucket list concept was the invention of Justin Zackham, writer of the movie The Bucket List.

It's a bit like the way the ploughman's lunch is something no ploughman ever ate but was invented by a marketer to get more English people into pubs during their work day.

I'm not alone in misunderstanding the concept. The first person who explained it to me, after delivering a small admonition about my lack of ambition, explained that it involved a notional bucket filled with things you would like to do.

When you did one thing you topped up the bucket with a new thing so it was never empty. That way you always had something to do.

Always a new obligation to fill, more like.

It sounded exhausting.

The bucket list seems to create more problems than it solves.


How does a person feel after being told by their doctor they have three weeks to live when they go home and look at a bucket list of 300 items, one of which is a four-week cruise?

There's nothing I want to do that badly that I'm going to organise my life around it.

There are things I'd like to do, but if I don't do them, it won't be the end of the world.

Lack ambition and cease to lust after possessions and you will never be disappointed.

It's the secret to happiness.

I'm pretty sure Buddha said something along those lines.

Although, judging from his disciple the Dalai Lama's performance, what Buddha may actually have said is the secret to happiness is not to share the suffering of your people but to spend your life flying around the world being hosted by wealthy celebrities.

The main trouble with what people put on buckets lists is that they are things to do once. They are transient.

Sure, they make memories but how much time are you really going to spend sitting around remembering? Isn't that a little backward looking?

It's the permanent things that give us happiness: family, friends and a job that provides something interesting to do every day; the ability to appreciate the life around us and the part we can play in it. Cheap, too.

One explanation for the bucket list's popularity is that it appeals to people who "feel insecure about life and make a list of things to get busy on".

And that's the bucket list's dirty little secret. It's only useful if you're dissatisfied.

It's crucial to be able to look back at our lives and think that we haven't wasted our time here.

But there's an awful lot of time wasted working through bucket lists.

There is an alternative.

It's called having a life.