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  • Katie Jefcoat

Reverse Bucket List Meaning & Actions

Do you have a bucket list of everything you want to do in life? You may even have multiple lists categorized by meaning, such as career, familial, or travel. Bucket lists are a creative way for us to dream big, think about future goals, and get our butts in gear to pursue those ideas. However, they aren’t all sunshine and roses. All those “wants” screaming in our brains can have a negative effect on our long-term happiness and satisfaction. Therefore, having a Reverse Bucket List may be a healthier alternative.


Today, I am sharing with you the reverse bucket list meaning and what actions you can take in writing one.



Reverse Bucket List Meaning


Okay, Katie…what the heck is a reverse bucket list? The Reverse Bucket List concept was created by Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor, PhD social scientist, #1 bestselling author, and columnist at The Atlantic, which is where I first learned of this concept.


The reverse bucket list meaning is to improve satisfaction, which in turn, enhances happiness. How does it do that? Brooks says, “The fewer wants there are screaming inside your brain and dividing your attention, the more peace and satisfaction will be left for what you already have.”


The reverse bucket list is essentially writing a list of your haves. In the process, you are trying to detach yourself from the wants (a traditional bucket list) by focusing on those haves. In doing so, you aren’t pining for what you don’t yet have but are taking satisfaction from what you have already accomplished.


How Satisfaction Plays into Happiness


The traditional bucket list is all the dreams and things you want to accomplish. That’s not a new concept, and it can certainly be fun. What Arthur Brooks is trying to achieve with a reverse bucket list is for you to feel more satisfied with the dreams you've accomplished and the things you already have. He says it can solve that satisfaction problem!

The Satisfaction Problem

Satisfaction is not a function of what you HAVE - it’s actually an equation of what you HAVE and what you WANT. Think of it like a fraction: the top is what you have, and the bottom is what you want. When you don’t manage the denominator, the bottom, the wants will expand and sprawl. This is your traditional bucket list. Instead, we have the reverse bucket list. You write a list of your haves and try to detach yourself from the wants by focusing on those haves. Then, your denominator will fall, and satisfaction will rise. That is the reverse bucket list exercise.



Hedonic Adaptation, Satisfaction, and Reverse Bucket List Meaning


Remember my previous blog post on hedonic adaptation prevention? As a reminder, hedonic adaptation is the natural process where heightened happiness due to some new circumstance inevitably loses its shine, and your happiness levels return to where they were before the change occurred.


When we achieve something new on a traditional bucket list, the joy behind it fades quickly away, and it just becomes another check mark. However, the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention theory assumes that hedonic adaptation is not inevitable as long as you continue to interact with the new circumstance in a positive way that continues to boost your happiness. That is where a reverse bucket list comes in! When writing a reverse bucket list, you get to revisit that happiness and satisfaction all over again.



Writing a Reverse Bucket List

Writing a reverse bucket list is incredibly soothing, and there is a wide range of ideas that you can include. For example, you can keep it simple and write down concepts such as:


· I have this chair in my living room. It brings me so much joy to sip warm coffee in this chair.

· I have a body that serves me. Hands that work, legs that allow me to walk.

· I have a mind that sees lightness through the dark that innately searches for positivity when life feels hard.

· I have a family that I am obsessed with. Kids who are healthy. A marriage where we prioritize one another and a husband who is kind, patient, generous, and who loves me. I get to give and receive love with the people that I love.


Alternatively, you can think bigger about the significant life milestones you have achieved, such as:


· I graduated from university with a degree I am passionate about

· I bought my first home/apartment/car/boat/camper

· I traveled to 10 countries

· I married the person that I love

· I got a job that I enjoy going to each day

· I started a business/side hustle

· I completed a major task

o Writing a book, starting a blog, learning to play an instrument, joining a community sports team, etc.

· I paid off my credit card debt/car loan/school loan/home loan


I am fortunate that my reverse bucket list is beautiful and long. It shows me that my wants are nice but not what will truly make me happier. I have everything I need to be as happy as I can be right now.


NOTE: It is important to remember that the above ideas are just basic ideas built off general life concepts, but it is vital to address happiness outside of societal norms. Just because I didn’t list an accomplishment here doesn’t mean that it isn’t an accomplishment. Anything that makes you happy and feels like a positive attribute of your life belongs on this reverse bucket list!


Share Your Reverse Bucket List Ideas with Us

I’m curious if you have any ah-ha moments when you start writing out your haves list. If so, please share them in the comments or on socials and tag me at @everydayhappinesswithkatie!

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