Why Simple Daily Pleasures Are More Important than Your Bucket List

A lot of people maintain lists of things they want to experience or become before they die.  "I want to own my own diner."  "I want to see the Taj Mahal."  "I want to complete the Wine Country Century Bike Ride."  They believe their bucket list will make them fulfilled and happy.

I'm fortunate to have done a lot of traveling in the U.S. and in England when I was a child and as a young adult.  I've raised and educated my children and had a varied career.  I've enjoyed a lot of fun and rewarding experiences, many of them before I ever heard the term "bucket list."

On one hand, I like the idea of setting a goal for something that's important to you, and then figuring out how to reach it.  A goal can be purposeful, such as wanting to earn a college degree or write a book.  Or it can be pleasurable, such as wanting to visit the Grand Canyon or go skydiving.

On the other hand, some people seem so interested in crossing an item off a bucket list that the actual experience becomes superficial.  Imagine asking someone to snap a photo of you in front of a famous European landmark, and then hurrying off to your next destination because the photo proves you "did" the Eiffel Tower.

look closely

The life in your years

Some people do the "just cross it off the list" thing all the time.  They might hike all day to reach the top of a mountain, take some pictures, and immediately start back down.  Or maybe tonight they've got expensive tickets to a popular Broadway show, but all they can think about is the complicated logistics of tomorrow's trip to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the 9/11 Museum.

My belief is that life will be richer and more meaningful if we slow down, pay attention, and savor our experiences – not just the fancy ones on a bucket list, but the simpler, everyday ones too.  In fact, those might be the most important.

Author and motivational speaker Jim McCarthy says that a cancer diagnosis made him rethink his interpretation of this quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln:  "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count; it's the life in your years."  Originally, McCarthy thought this meant that it was smart to do and achieve a lot, always something new and different, with great intensity.

But after his diagnosis, when he had to come to terms with his mortality, he thought differently.  Perhaps it wasn't wise to cram in as many big bucket list experiences as possible. 

Stop racing and start living!  No matter how long you live, you'll be a lot happier if you savor each hour of each day.  If you can't learn to enjoy the simplest of daily pleasures, then extraordinary experiences probably won't have much positive impact on you either.

The smart choice

I love the Sonoma Coast of Northern California.  I love the ocean, the redwoods, the vineyards, and the small historic towns.  Naturally, because it's such a special place, the cost of living is extremely high, higher than in Sacramento, and much higher than the small, farm-surrounded town where I live.  I don't dream of living there; I just enjoy visiting.

But let's say that every time I came home from a weekend trip I started comparing my home to the elegant bed and breakfast my husband and I stayed in.  Let's say I compared the weather, the views, the culture, or something else to my town.  It would be easy to make myself miserable.  Pretty soon, I'd overlook all the beautiful things that are in and around my town.  I might even neglect my friends and loved ones who live near me because my mind was always focused on what I was missing about Sonoma County.

You might think this sounds like a stupid thing to do (it is), but do you ever do it?  Do you ever get so focused on an upcoming trip or bucket list experience that your everyday life seems boring and gray by comparison?  Do you spend so much time planning for a celebratory event that you not only fail to notice anything else that's going on, but spend a lot of time complaining about all the jobs and details you need to accomplish?

I think we all do this sometimes.  We do it when we're planning a big trip, a big party, or even Christmas.

Here's an idea I think is much smarter.  Let's make a daily bucket list for mindfulness.  What can you experience and appreciate today that will be purposeful or pleasurable?  Today:

  • I can smell, taste, and savor my first cup of coffee as if I'm at a luxurious wine tasting.
  • I can write a sentence or more for an upcoming blog post, making it as detailed and thought-provoking as possible.
  • I can listen and watch the various birds and small animals that visit my home.
  • I can take warm, clean  clothes out of the dryer and fold or hang them, noticing their colors and textures as I do.
  • I can appreciate my abilities to see, hear, think, speak, and move.
  • I can carefully choose fresh fruits and vegetables at the market, giving thanks for the large variety of colors, textures, scents, flavors, and nutritive values.
  • I can listen for the sound of my 2-year-old grandson humming to himself in the background as I talk to my daughter on the phone.  (Liam loves music!)
  • I can pay attention to the variety of people I see, and notice their features, actions, and emotions.
  • I can write a birthday note to my sister and a thank you note to a reader who supported me by buying a coffee.

  • I can laugh at something funny my husband shares about one of his students.

Happier every day

Go ahead and create your "what I want before I die" bucket list if you must.  But make a daily bucket list for mindfulness too.  You'll be so much more fulfilled and happy if you learn to enjoy the simplest of pleasures.  Make it your goal to notice and savor valuable things each day.


  1. This is very timely for me! My husband and I are just finishing a week in lovely Mendocino CA and wil be traveling home tomorrow to Chico CA. We have loved our stay here and while we don’t look forward to returning to the summer heat we have much to be grateful for and enjoy in our own hometown.

    1. Ha! My husband and I are going to the Bodega Bay/Jenner area for a few days this coming week, and will certainly enjoy getting out of the heat!


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