Rethink the bucket list

Every month, Martha Roberts invites you to road-test research around feeling good


Rethink the bucket list


Having a ‘bucket list’ sounds like a perfect template for ticking important things off in life but the wrong ambitions may end up leaving you socially isolated.


Having a life’s desire ‘to-do’ list may seem like a perfect way to achieve your heart’s desires but it may actually result in you feeling less happy. So how do you create one that doesn't leave you feeling isolated?


A 2014 survey of 2,000 people found that the average person holds 16 key dreams they want to achieve in life, ranging from having a holiday home abroad, learning to play an instrument and swimming with dolphins. So what's wrong with that? Surely the pursuit of adventure, excitement and glamour can only bring positives with it? Apparently not – in fact, the emotional costs of our wildest bucket list experiences could end up making us feel socially isolated.

In a 2014 study published in Psychological Science, Cooney, Gilbert and Wilson found that while extraordinary experiences of the type crammed into bucket lists may be pleasurable in the moment, they can leave us socially worse off in the long run. Although we appreciate ‘fine and rare’ experiences that we can tell our friends about, it’s ‘ordinary topics’ that conversations thrive on and the ‘extraordinary experiences’ that may, actually, end up ‘having more costs than benefits’.

Experts say it should be more about meaningful connection to other people (scientifically proven to increase our happiness) and less about inward-looking acts that may exclude others and possibly lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection.


MARTHA ROBERTS is an award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at

Photograph: iStock

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