A lot of people maintain lists of things they want to do, be, or experience before they die. Many people have unwritten “bucket lists” in the back of their minds: “I’d like to start my own company.” “I’d like to do a triathlon.” “I’d like to see Venice someday.” I’m lucky to have traveled the world, and have had a varied career, so I’ve enjoyed a lot of fun, fulfilling experiences, long before I heard the term “bucket list.”
I have mixed feelings about these lists. On the one hand, I like the idea of setting goals for things that are important to you, and then figuring out how to accomplish those goals. A goal can be purposeful, such as volunteering for a political campaign to help someone you admire get elected. Or the goal can be for something pleasurable, such as swimming with dolphins in Mexico.
On the other hand, I detest when people do things so superficially that the activity hardly “counts” at all. For example, I once made great efforts to help someone see a glorious European cathedral, just to have him walk out after two minutes because he only needed 120 seconds to “do” Notre Dame.
My belief is that your life will be richer and more meaningful if you slow down enough to pay attention and savor your experience. In fact, many of us are so busy multitasking and racing around experiencing things that we really shortchange ourselves of the beauty of the present moment.
For instance, have you ever hiked a long distance to get to the top of a mountain, and once you’re at the top, you immediately start thinking about your ride back home? Or you’re on vacation in Montreal, but you’re already talking about your next trip to New Orleans? Or you’re watching an expensive Broadway musical but worrying about the next day’s trip to the Statue of Liberty?
(To learn more about mindfulness, take a peek at my TEDx Talk, “What Cancer Taught Me About Happiness.”)
These are problems that arise when we are not being “mindful” or aware of the present moment.
I’m reminded of the saying, “The purpose is not to fit more years into your life, but to fit more life into your years.” At first glance, I can interpret this quote to mean, “Go ahead! Do more stuff! Don’t just do the same thing! Live life intensely.”
OK, that’s a great approach. But then, you can imagine that, taken to an extreme, a person following this suggestion is just running around, striving to “do” their bucket list, while not really slowing down to enjoy any of it.
The rise of social media has made this insanity even worse, as people experience life more as an efficient photo shoot than as … well … life!Jim McCarthy
As an alternative, you can interpret the quote to mean, “Stop racing and start living! No matter how long you live, you’ll be a lot happier and more successful if you savor each hour of each day — whether you’re visiting a city on your bucket list, sitting at home listening to music, or just reading a good book.”
If you can’t learn how to enjoy the simplest of daily pleasures, then extraordinary experiences probably won’t have much positive impact on you either. Instead, why not create a bucket list of the day — “a bucket list du jour,” if you will. A daily bucket list for mindfulness. That list might look like this:
• I notice many variations of smells and savor the ones I like.
• I smell and taste the food I eat while consciously putting words to the flavors and textures.
• I smell and taste the liquids that I drink, giving them the same attention I would if I were at a luxurious wine-tasting event.
• I recognize the beauty of colors, shapes, and patterns throughout the day — orange and turquoise, curved and straight, plaid and polka dot, leopard skin and lavender.
• I appreciate my sense of touch of things warm, cool, cold, hot, rough, smooth, soft, fuzzy, prickly, squishy, shallow, or deep.
• I notice all the varieties of sounds — espresso machines, barking dogs, rustling leaves, pounding drums, TV commercials, and the voices of people talking to me.
• I marvel at my bodily sensations and my ability to move and feel gravity.
• I notice the eye color of those who are speaking with me.
• I pay attention to whether someone I see looks happy, sad, or any other emotion. I attempt to put their emotion into words.
• I seek opportunities to be compassionate to others — by word, or action, or thought.
• I laugh.
Go ahead and create your “racing all over the world” bucket list, if you insist. But make sure you practice your daily mindfulness bucket list as well — so that you can live each day.
This is an excerpt from my new book, Live Each Day: A Surprisingly Simple Guide to Happiness.
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