bucketlist.jpg A corporate billionaire and a working class mechanic  have nothing in common until they’re forced to share a hospital room. Once there they discover a common spark of eagerness for devoting the rest of their lives to accomplishing all their unfulfilled desires. As many as possible before they “kick the bucket.”

Together they embark on the road trip of a lifetime, becoming friends along the way and learning to live life to the fullest. Each goal checked-off gives them the joy that had hitherto been elusive.

The film, The Bucket List opened on Christmas Day with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in the title roles inspiring the public to make their own life lists and start tackling some of their own goals now, instead of waiting for “the right time.”

Although “The Bucket List” is fictional, there are some famous stories of “life lists” that were actually inspired by close brushes with death. Phil Keoghan, host of the television show The Amazing Race, had a close call while scuba diving and as a result decided that he had to go after his dreams, which also gave birth to a book about the topic called, No Opportunity Wasted : Creating a List for Life.
Famous To-Do Lists Written At Death’s Door

The same is true of Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals and one of the geniuses at America Online. This billionaire grabbed some paper while an airplane. While experiencing severe turbulence, he wrote down all of the things he’d do if he survived. He lived, and he uses his “life list” as a tool to teach others how to set and achieve goals, using a life list as the roadmap for a fulfilling life. He maintains a public list, checking off goals as he gets them done.

Oprah Winfrey once featured a skydiver on her show whose chute fail to open. As she hurtled towards her almost-certain death, the woman said she was surprised that she didn’t see her life flash before her eyes, or meet any dead relatives who were going to escort her to the afterlife. Instead, she experienced flashes of regret as she reviewed all of the goals she’d had in her life that she’d never pursued, either out of fear or embarrassment.

The woman hit the ground at 80 miles per hour and broke almost every bone in her body. But she rehabbed diligently and, then, married her skydiving instructor. She also created a list of all of the goals she’d seen in the sky, and she is now on a mission to accomplish them, one at a time.

Recently, I saw an article in The Washington Post about a father whose son perished in one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. His life was not only turned upside-down with grief, he was seized with the certainty that he had to go after all of his own goals before it was too late, because his son hadn’t had the chance to go after his. Again, what we see here is an example of how brushes with death can galvanize us, or someone close to us, to seize the day and play bigger in life.

Odysseus' voyage around Greek Islands As a performance coach who specializes in helping people design and achieve their life goals, I am privileged to see people identifying their goals and going after them every day. My interest in “bucket lists” goes back to my own father’s death and the goal that he set for himself, but never went after. My entire life, I heard this brainy, well-educated man discuss his enthusiasm for retracing Odysseus’ voyage around the Greek Islands. Books often dotted our dining room table about this epic voyage, and I assumed that this would be the first thing my father would do as we all departed for college and started our adult lives.

That didn’t happen. My father died at the age of 69 and when we gathered around his bed the night he died, the only thought we all had was that he never went after his Homeric dream. As I gazed at my father’s lifeless body, all I could ask myself helplessly was, “Why didn’t you do it, Dad?” That thought, more than any, made me sad. It also made me determined to do the things that would bring me joy while I was alive.

Starting Your Own Bucket List

There is plenty of research about why we should have a life list and make goal accomplishment a priority if we want to be happier. Dr. Michael B. Frisch of Baylor University created Quality of Life Therapy & Coaching, a scientific approach to becoming happier by setting goals in the 16 areas of life that matter most to you. He says that a life list is one of the best ways we can establish our priorities and experience the spillover effect of joy from one area of life to another.

Dr. Laura King of the University of Missouri won the Templeton Prize for her contributions to Positive Psychology, and much of her research has focused on the power of goals to create and sustain well-being. In a recent interview I conducted with her, Dr. King noted her continuing surprise that, given their importance, people don’t always set goals. In our interview, she stressed the importance of bidding farewell to our “Lost Possible Selves” — or the people we once thought we’d be — in order to engage in life in a fresh way with more relevant goals. Dr. King believes that writing down our goals even once, possibly in a life list, can have the result of giving us more hope, less goal conflict, and more engagement in life.

If you’d like to get started on creating your own life list, please visit any of the popular sites that show you how to start. At my own website, you can download forms that help you group your goals into sets of ten. Publish them on my website, if you’d like some extra accountability. Similarly, you can group your goals into the 16 areas of life and publish at your100things.com. Receive online support and cheering from people around the world who connect with you there. 43things.com and www.superviva.com also give you fresh tools to dream, dare and do.

Start with the inspiration derived at the theatre. Bucket List has the power to change your life and your well-being, if you are open and daring and willing to go outside your comfort zone.  

dalai-lama.jpg Even the Dalai Lama, in his 19 “instructions for life,” seems to bless the notion of embracing life lists that involve taking action and taking risks.  His first instruction is: “Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.” Number 16 is: “Once a year, go some place you’ve never been before.” 

So get going and make 2008 the year you begin a great adventure!


Caroline Miller
Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP, ACC is a performance coach, author and motivational speaker who specializes in helping people design and achieve their life goals.

Original article first published in Positive Psychology News Daily, the daily news source for positive psychology.


  1. Oooo, c, did you see Morgan in Ten Items or Less?? Oh, I could have kissed that film, it was such a delight… I saw him on the View this week. He said that on his life list is to order a new plane (he is a pilot) that has some leg room.

  2. Wow, great review and I love the fact that Caroline has brought an uplifting movie to our attention, I know how hard they are to find. As a motivational expert, I make it a point to keep a list of movies that are inspirational or uplifting. If anyone is interested in obtaining a free list of over 70 motivating uplifting movies, I will send you the list via email. Just drop me an email at [email protected] OK, thanks and keep up the good work. Ed Smith http://www.brightmoment.com

  3. Thanks for the article. I wasn’t planning on seeing this movie, but now I will. It is amazing what messages life will send us. Who knows, maybe you father didn’t do it, because in the end it would act as a stimulus to you. Be well!

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