What is a Bucket List? The Origin and Meaning

Have you ever found yourself day dreaming about things like learning to line dance, owning a home, taking a hot air balloon ride, seeing the Northern Lights or hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? That would be a BIG yes for most of us.

Technically by definition, this mental list of things you want to experience in your lifetime is your bucket list, just without the formal label. Simple, right?

Well, the origin and meaning go a little bit deeper than that, but it’s really not that complicated. Let me explain.

The Origin and Meaning of Bucket Lists

Bucket List Meaning

So, what the heck is a bucket list? Simply put, it is a collection of goals, dreams and experiences that you would like to achieve in your lifetime.

These goals can be absolutely ANYTHING from flying a kite to running a marathon to backpacking Europe for a year.

Definition from Cambridge Dictionary

buck·et list noun, informal
: a list of the things that a person would like to do or achieve before they die.

Annette at Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala

Bucket List Origin

There is some controversy over where the term bucket list actually originated. It gained a lot of popularity after The Bucket List movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman that was released in 2007.

But, there are many claims that the term was used before that time. I definitely remember creating one and hearing about bucket lists years before the film’s release date. The actual first time was from a guest on the Oprah show back in the 90s.

The most common explanation for the origin is from the phrase “kick the bucket” which is believed to originate sometime in the Middle Ages when execution by hanging was common and the executioner would “kick the bucket”. You get the idea.

Annette enjoying her hot tub outside her cabin on Vista Verde Guest Ranch Colorado

What Goes on a Bucket List?

Good news—a bucket list can include just about any goal you can think of. The important part is to come up with items that are meaningful to you; ones that will inspire you to wake up each morning with a fire in your belly. Doing your weekly grocery shopping has no place on this list, nor does spring cleaning the cobwebs out of the garage. Save those for your honey-dos.

With that said, don’t worry if you didn’t make each aspiration earth shattering, or even travel related; sometimes the simplest goals are the most rewarding. Giving blood took less than an hour commitment, yet is still one of my most gratifying experiences.

Also, don’t exclude anything just because you think it is too difficult or frightening; it is meant to stretch your comfort zone. Do the same for the things you think are too simple. As long as it has meaning to you it should be on your list, because even the smallest achievement can give us the feeling of a great accomplishment.

For more info, I have some helpful guidelines to make creating your list a little bit easier: How to Make a Bucket List: 5 Easy Steps to Create a Great One.

Annette fishing at Mexico

Don’t Like the Term Bucket List?

Due to the bucket list meaning and definition, some people have some strong emotions about the term bucket list, mostly because it is a reminder of their own mortality. I get it. But, a bucket list is really about living life to the fullest with all the hours you have left on Earth.

With that said, don’t feel obligated to name your list a “bucket list” you can call it anything that makes you feel the warm fuzzies inside. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Life List
  • Dream List
  • Life’s Aspiration List
  • My Lifetime Goals
  • Things to Achieve in My Lifetime
  • My Life’s To Do
  • Meaningful Life Goals
  • Things to Conquer
  • Amazing Experiences To Be Had
  • 25 More Name Ideas
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12 thoughts on “What is a Bucket List? The Origin and Meaning”

  1. I definitely love your post! That’s interesting, I’ll put it on my bucket list to create some organized bucket lists! No kidding here, this is interesting to have a real explanation about that term that everybody uses nowadays. It’s something that everyone should have, a bucket list is a thing that keeps us dreaming therefore living!

  2. Bucket list dont work i faild to achieve my bucket list every day. My buket list is the biggest bucket that ever been made but only thing that is worth achieving is waiting for tommrow.

    • I’m sorry that your bucket list did not work for you, but I do believe that they work (I am living proof). If you are not able to achieve anything on your list than maybe try breaking each item into smaller goals.

  3. The fact that this blog exists in the FIRST PLACE is incredible! As someone who has health challenges, Annette, your story hits home for me. So thank you so much for all you do!
    I was thinking about fhe term ‘bucket’ in the phrase ‘bucket list”. I think of if as a bucket list can be full of things that fill your own personal bucket. Kind of like a bucket of water. Each thing on your list fills your bucket a little bit (or more than a little). What will fill your bucket so that you will feel ful-filled?

  4. Great explanation! Your breakdown of what a bucket list is and its meaning is clear and insightful. It’s a wonderful resource for anyone looking to create and define their own bucket list. Thanks for the informative post!


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Annette White the Owner of Bucket List Journey
Hey Bucket Listers!
I'm Annette.

I’m a goal obsessed mid-lifer, traveler, experience collector, fear crusher, digital marketer and author with big bucket list dreams. Let's Connect!

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