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The Downside of Bucket Lists

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Maybe it’s time for bucket lists to kick the bucket. In early 2008, The Bucket List, a movie about a pair of terminally ill men checking life goals off their to-do lists, reached theaters across the US. In the years that have followed, many people have created their own bucket lists—climb Mount Everest…learn to hang glide…visit China…see the Northern Lights. But it turns out that bucket lists exact a steep cost.

Engaging in the occasional adventure can be a fun diversion, but people who create bucket lists often dedicate huge amounts of their time and money to crossing off entry after entry. Completing these lists becomes an expensive, exhausting, time-consuming addiction—one that pulls people away from things that matter more.

They pursue what they imagine will be the thrills of a lifetime, but in the process, they unintentionally trade away the close connections to family, friends and community that actually are much more deeply satisfying. There is nothing inherently wrong with traveling to exotic locations and going on adventures, but many seniors who spend their retirements doing these things complain that their lives feel empty.

What to do…

Seek balance between exciting adventures and existing connections. Your goal should not be to squeeze as many new experiences as possible into your life, but to have the occasional adventure while spending most of your time and energy savoring your relationships with the people who matter to you and enjoying familiar projects that always bring you pleasure. Before investing lots of time (and money) on a bucket list goal, ask yourself whether you likely would be happier spending that time with the people and projects that matter most to you.

Combine bucket list adventures with your greater goals. If your number-one priority is your grandkids, for example, maybe you could invite a grandkid or two along on each bucket-list trip. If your top priority is leaving the world better than you found it, perhaps you could do volunteer work in an exotic location, rather than just sightsee there.

 Consider taking longer trips. Rather than go on lots of short trips to exotic destinations, schedule a smaller number of monthlong or longer visits. The longer you spend in a location, the greater the odds that you will form deep, meaningful connections to people and communities there—but only if you go where the locals go, rather than just to touristy sites.

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Source: Marc Agronin, MD, a geriatric psychiatrist based in Miami, and author of The Dementia Caregiver. Publication: Bottom Line Personal
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