More than a list: How making a bucket list could change your life

Want to charge up your life? Then grab a pen and paper and start making your bucket list.

A bucket list is a personal inventory of experiences and goals that you aspire to achieve before you “kick the bucket.” It’s a tangible representation of your dreams, a roadmap to guide you towards a life filled with passion, adventure, and personal growth.

Far from being a frivolous exercise though, crafting a bucket list can profoundly impact your life in ways you never imagined.

“A bucket list can support mental health in allowing individuals to focus on self-reflection and aim towards goals that bring joy, happiness, and a sense of achievement and purpose,” says Sheena Tanna-Shah, a rapid transformation therapy practitioner and mindset coach.

A book with a pen on top of it and a heading on the paper saying bucket listCredit: Shutterstock/Lemau Studio
A bucket list can help your confidence and make you happier

One person who knows this more than other is Jani Rad, a retired fashion forecaster, who resolved to try 60 new things before turning 60.

“In the 12 months leading up to my 60th birthday, I flew a plane, held a tarantula and hula-hooped every day for a month,” she says.

Why create a bucket list

A great tool for improving mental health

As well as a way to enjoy some amazing experiences, a bucket list can also be a great tool to enhance your general wellbeing and mental health.

It can help when dealing with loss

For Rad, who appeared in the December issue of Saga Magazine, her bucket list came about after her husband’s death.

“After losing my husband in 2017 I found I was scared of everything, even small things like getting on public transport in London, where I live,” she says.

“We married when I was quite young and had no children, so when he died suddenly at 64 my life changed beyond all recognition. I felt like I’d lost myself. My friends suggested I take on challenges that’d push me out of my comfort zone, and it escalated from there.”

Georgina Sturmer, counsellor, MBACP, says a bucket list can be a great tool when dealing with trauma.

“When we lose a loved one, it reminds us of the fragility of life itself,” she says. “And our bucket list might be, in some way, inspired to honour the person who we have lost – to think about activities that we might have enjoyed together, or to think about their happiness at seeing us making the most out of life.”

Gives a sense of purpose

She says that coming up with bucket list ideas also gives us a sense of purpose, which can be great in times of grief, stress or even boredom of life.

“A bucket list offers us a focal point – something to look forward to, and something to make us stop in our tracks and reflect on what we really want,” she says. “It allows us to think about what makes our heart race with excitement, what makes us smile, and what we want to experience.”

Improves self-confidence

Rad says her bucket list helped her deal with anxieties and boosted her general self-esteem.

“I’ve come so far, confronting multiple fears, like lifts (I shot up 50 storeys) and horses (I rode bareback in the ocean),” she says. “It’s stopped me overthinking things before I attempt them.”

Psychotherapist Kamalyn Kaur says that a bucket list not only gives you direction and purpose, which can help alleviate anxiety, but also makes you feel like you’re achieving something.

“As you start ticking off your items from the bucket list, you will experience a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction,” she says. “You will also, consequently, be proving to yourself that you can achieve what you set out to do. This undoubtedly leads to improved self-confidence.”

How to create your own bucket list

Where to start?

So, a bucket list can improve your life, but how do you start on such a momentous list – this is no simple to do list. Rad had one rule – they had to be things she’d never done before.

“Some were bucket-list ‘to-dos’ that would make anyone nervous; others more personally daunting, like wearing mismatched underwear,” she says. “My first challenge was a huge struggle for a neat freak like me: to leave my house without making the bed.”

Kaur says starting small is a good idea as it makes things seem more achievable.

“Your bucket list doesn’t have to filled with big extravagant things,” she says. “In fact, I would advise against this as it can be very overwhelming and unattainable, leading to analysis paralysis – which is when you can’t decide due to overthinking. Instead start with smaller goals that are more achievable, realistic, and simpler to plan.”

Make it all about you!

“Don’t worry about appearing self-indulgent,” says Sturmer.  “Your bucket list should belong to you, and reflect your dreams and priorities.”

Think about those things that truly excite you and feed into your passions – that way, you’re more likely to want to tick them off your list.

Sturmer however, also says it’s a great idea to take a trip down memory lane and think back to the things you wanted to do when you were younger.

She says: “Our childish dreams might seem unrealistic, but they are usually designed with a carefree, limitless imagination – and these might be exactly what you need!”

Imagination hasn’t been lacking for Rad, who has done a huge variety of things from driving a combine harvester to pole dancing – she even went on a lunch date to Geneva!

“I even went on a Tinder date” she laughs. “I found a French gentleman on the app and met him at a bar. It was happy hour, so we got free chicken wings with our drinks. As I only drank water, I was a cheap date! I later flew to Geneva for lunch with him. We’re still in touch as friends.”

Some other tips to help you start your bucket list

Tanna-Shah says a creating something visually can really help come up with new ideas: “Create one all the things you would love to see and do, small or big no matter how impossible it may seem to achieve – attach images, words, whatever.”

“Instead of saying ‘travel more’, specify where you want to travel to; what experiences you want to have there; and what you want to visit once there,” advises Kaur, who says this will also help with the planning of your item.

“There have been a few that didn’t work out, so I had to replace them,” says Rad. “Someone dared me to eat baked beans and sausages out of a tin, which I nearly failed at. I’d rather fly a plane, even though that involved sweaty palms and heart palpitations.”

While your bucket list should be unique to you, friends and family can help come up with some items that you would not have initially thought of.

“We all have ‘blind spots’, and they might suggest ideas that wouldn’t have initially occurred to you,” says Sturmer.

It doesn’t matter where you keep your bucket list – a notebook or on your phone – but having it saved somewhere, says Kaur, means it will help you “see and track your goals, which will help keep you motivated, focused, and accountable.”

Bucket list ideas

Fancy trying some of these?

Rad tried out 60 new things before her 60th birthday. These were just some of her highlights:

  • Eat jellied eels
  • Post a Tweet
  • Attend a life drawing class
  • Try axe throwing
  • Paint something worthy of wall space in her home
  • Walk Tower Bridge’s glass floor walkway
  • Try Wim Hof ice water swimming
  • Attend a Bollywood dance class
  • Get published
  • Try industrial welding
  • Strip off at a nudist beach
  • Ride a zip line
  • Harvest honey from bees
  • Ride pillion on a motorbike

How to tick off everything in you bucket list

Make sure someone keeps you accountable

Rad set herself a target – 60 before 60 – and this is a great way to ensure you tick all those items off. One study showed that setting a deadline, means we are more likely to do those enjoyable experiences sooner, rather than later.

If you feel like your motivation may fizzle out, it’s also a good idea to involve those around you.

“You might want to involve other people as a way of remaining accountable and ensuring that you will focus on trying to achieve the things that you have laid out in your list,” suggests Sturmer.

And it’s something that Rad did in a bid to keep things fun.

“Wherever possible, I involved people who are important in my life,” she says. “I visited my friend’s farm and sheared a sheep; I replaced my nephew as a food delivery driver. Another friend relocated to the Middle East, gifted me a six-foot-tall plant and challenged me to keep it alive. It was going well until I moved it outside.”

Don’t forget once you’ve ticked everything off your bucket list, make sure you truly celebrate your achievement. Rad celebrated ticking off all her bucket list ideas with a sky dive over Salisbury! For you, it might mean creating a photo book of all everything you’ve done – or perhaps even starting a new bucket list?

One thing’s for sure, Rad regrets none of her experiences and said it’s made her into a new person.

“Finding my feet living alone hasn’t been easy, but my confidence has swelled over the year,” she says. “I’ve treasured the opportunity to bond with friends and family who helped me complete the list. The process has changed my life. I plan to keep pushing myself and encourage others to do the same.”

You can read Jani Rad’s full story in the December issue of Saga Magazine.

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her


Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 24 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars. A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

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