A Bucket List Can Be Good for Your Health

By Richard Asa @RickAsa
February 24, 2016

Novel and arousing activities improve the quality of your relationships as well.

Eva Rosol, 49, of Westmont, Ill., recently put a bucket list together to take stock of what she’s done and what she still wants to do. 

She has the home and family she wanted, but still wants to travel the world (mostly Italy and Vietnam), spend time with a long-lost friend in Australia, snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef, walk the Pacific Coast Trail, and write a popular novel with an option for a Hollywood movie. 

“You need to have something to look forward to. Otherwise things can get really boring and you get mired in all the pain of everyday life,” she says. 

She believes that without goals and aspirations, you can become depressed, and depression is known for its direct connection to emotional and physical ills. Rosol lost a foot to complications with blood clots. She says she not about to slow down now. 


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Research has found that “novel and arousing” activities improve the quality of your relationships as well. The results of a study based on a survey “bear on general issues of boredom and excitement in relationships and the role of such processes in understanding the typical early decline of relationship quality after the honeymoon period.”

“Bucket lists reflect a positive orientation to the future,” says Scott Pytluk, PhD, a psychology professor at Argosy University in Chicago. “When individuals set specific goals, even when they seem out of reach, they demonstrate hopefulness. Hopefulness is associated with positive psychological well-being.” 

A bucket list is an attempt to “make life memorable,” adds psychologist Christopher Petersen, PhD, in a Psychology Today blog. He refers to Daniel Kahneman's peak-end theory, which holds that what people remember from pleasurable events are their peaks. 

“No peaks — no memories, or at least not very crisp ones,” Petersen says. In researching people’s bucket lists, hundreds of them, Petersen said he found some narcissistic, but many had goals that would connect people to something larger than themselves. 

“In any event,” Petersen says, “a bucket list is not about dying but about living, and my chief objection to the phrase is simply that it is misleading. I do not think that most people create such lists with their imminent death in mind.”


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Pytluk believes so-called bucket lists can be useful as references that are taken out of the cranny of a drawer now and then in order to see if you need or want to make healthy changes in your life, physical or otherwise. 

Bucket lists can be directly healthy in the way they are drafted, adds clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin, PsyD, of Los Angeles. One third are healthy must-haves, or non-negotiables such as children and travel; one third are negotiables such as relocation or further education; and one third are “must not haves” such as “drugs, smoking, and cheating” on your partner.

Irwin allows that bucket lists can turn into a sort of dreamer’s paradise, taking you out of living in the necessary present, but placing timelines or even deadlines on some goals can snap you back to reality. 

Hillary Goldsher’s journey to becoming a Beverly Hills psychologist incorporated her own bucket list, although the term hadn’t been coined yet. 

With an MBA from the prestigious Kellogg School of Business Management at Northwestern University, she worked more than a decade for a Fortune 500 medical supply corporation and did well. The whole while, she says, she “felt the pull toward helping others” and began her pursuit of a doctorate in psychology. 

To top it off, she has extensive training as an actor, with a career spanning more than a decade in theater and film. 

“Healing comes from a willingness to deeply experience, explore and feel one’s emotions related to both present and past circumstances,” she says. “Unexamined feelings can often lead to unwanted or painful symptoms, while understanding one’s feelings allows one to grieve… which purges emotions and creates space for new, more positive emotions, thoughts and behaviors.” 

For Rosol losing her foot was a classic wake-up call. She’s healthier, more outgoing and most importantly, she says, interested in stretching herself in ways that maintain her health and well-being. Whether she accomplishes on the goal’s on her list, she realizes, isn’t the point. 


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April 02, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN