Want to Feel More Fulfilled? Try Writing a 'Reverse Bucket List'
As someone who loves to travel, I have a pretty intense bucket list of places I want to go to, sights to see, and events to attend. Right now, I have about 10 different countries I want to visit, and I need to squeeze in a drawing class to better hone my artistic skills, too. I also want to challenge myself at work by pitching and writing for different publications, and there’s a handful of musicians I want to see perform live at least once in my lifetime. Oh, and did I mention that I someday want to try reading my poetry at an open mic night?
While my bucket list inspires me to take initiative, it can also make me feel, well, overwhelmed. Like a shame-y reminder of all the things I haven’t done. It can feel like I have so much left to accomplish—and that any moment I’m not doing something on the list isn’t a moment well spent.
While my bucket list inspires me to take initiative, it can also make me feel overwhelmed.
Thankfully, in the midst of a recent wave of bucket-list anxiety, I learned about something called a reverse bucket list. It’s a mindfulness exercise that has been making the rounds on blogs lately.
The reverse bucket list is pretty straightforward: Rather than writing down all of the things you hope to one day achieve, you instead write down a list of all the things you’ve already accomplished, things that make you feel proud. It’s the exact opposite of a regular bucket list—and it’s an encouraging exercise.
The Benefits of Hitting Reverse
Researchers haven’t specifically looked into the benefits of a reverse bucket list, but the exercise taps into a couple well-studied topics, including gratitude.
Gratitude is typically thought of as appreciating all that you have in a given moment, but it can also include appreciating all you have done and the experiences you’ve had in the past.
A 2015 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology looked into how “grateful recounting” enhances a person’s overall well-being. The study showed that participants who recalled three good things from the past 48 hours—and briefly wrote about them—every day for a week had an easier time accessing positive memories. And by routinely recalling positive experiences, it sparked an increase in their subjective well-being.
Think of a reverse bucket list as an exercise in grateful recounting: You’re basking in the pride of your experiences and accomplishments, and you're taking time to get thankful for them.
Reverse bucket lists also tap into the power of nostalgia. Research shows that revisiting positive or meaningful experiences from the past—like that music festival you went to—can help counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety, as well as make people “more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders,” according to The New York Times. Creating a reverse bucket list is like creating a nostalgia playlist—it's a collection of your greatest hits and memories.
Creating a reverse bucket list is like creating a nostalgia playlist—it's a collection of your greatest hits and memories.
Finally, creating a reverse bucket list can give us a sense of progress. Traditional bucket lists can often feel like a daily to-do list—overwhelming and impossible. But taking stock of what you have accomplished can create a feeling of progress, which can boost self-esteem and motivation. It’s why productivity enthusiasts praise “done” lists—when we see that we’ve made progress, it’s more encouraging than feeling like we’re behind. And we can gain a major sense of fulfillment.
How To Create Your Own Reverse Bucket List
So, how do you create a reverse bucket list? It’s simple: Write down accomplishments from your past that you feel proud of. Boom—you’ve made a reverse bucket list.
There’s no official amount of examples you need, since this list is really your own to make use of. Some bloggers jotted down 50 or more accomplishments, but you can always write down 10 to 15 of your strongest memories if you don’t have time to write more.
If it's hard to come up with examples, try looking through your social media for reminders of rewarding things you’ve done. If you did something that made you proud, you might have posted about it on Facebook or Instagram. A quick scroll through your timeline might remind you of teaching your niece to ride a bike or getting that big promotion at work.
You can also refer to your real-life social network and ask a close friend or family member to help you remember your proudest moments. Perhaps you’re too humble to remember scoring the winning goal at your rec soccer game last year, but your friend who was on the sidelines that day can help bring up the good memory.
Meaningful moments come in all sizes.
If you still feel like you can't find accomplishments for your list, try thinking smaller. Sure, big milestones are great additions to a reverse bucket list, but meaningful moments come in all sizes. Spending the holidays with your family, making a new friend as an adult (a goal that sometimes feels truly impossible)—that's definitely reverse bucket list material.
When I created my reverse bucket list, I tried to alternate between big and small accomplishments. That way, I didn’t underestimate how the smaller things are just as important as the more significant.
Here are the first 10 items from my reverse bucket list:
1. I’ve had my work printed in a national magazine
2. I’ve allowed myself to dance and have fun at Zumba classes even though I’m not a great dancer
3. I’ve climbed the Thórsmörk mountain range in Iceland
4. I disciplined my spending habits and saved up for tattoos I want
5. I’ve scored a spot on both the dean’s and honor's lists while studying at my university
6. I taught myself how to cut my own hair to save money between haircuts
7. I’ve traveled to foreign countries on my own
8. I was the featured guest on a podcast when I was 19 years old
9. I’ve performed on stage at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis—twice!
10. I’ve had the strength to walk away from a couple of toxic relationships in my life
After you’ve created your list, try placing it right next to your traditional bucket list or keep it as a note on your phone. It might feel like a "brag list"—and a bit uncomfortable to write at first—but know it's OK to take pride in your accomplishments. This list is by you, for you, and to benefit you.
When I created my own reverse bucket list, I found it counteracted my bucket list shame. Instead of getting anxious about all the things I still have to do, I could look back with satisfaction and pride.
Just as bucket lists can inspire us for the future, reverse bucket lists can make us grateful for the now—for all we’ve experienced and all we’ve done. Create your own list, and see if it can make today feel a bit more meaningful.