Holly Richardson: Creating a reverse bucket list

Lennie Mahler | The Salt Lake Tribune Austin Bennett, a 12-year-old with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, poses with Harlem Globetrotters player Buckets Blakes on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, at EnergySolutions Arena. Bennett will meet and watch the Harlem Globetrotters play the World All-Stars on Monday, Feb. 10, as a "bucket list" item fulfilled by the Children and the Earth charity.

Thanks to the 2007 movie “The Bucket List,” most of us have some idea of what a bucket list it: the things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.”

Like many people, I have a bucket list, too — lots of new places I want to go, lots of things I want to see and experience. Some of the items are underway, like get a Ph.D., and some are still in the future, like write a book.

Some I have no idea how to accomplish, like do a humanitarian service project with Angelina Jolie. (If you have any ideas on how to make that happen, hit me up!)

Today, though, I want to write about doing a Reverse Bucket List. It’s different than the not-to-do or stop-doing lists I’ve written about previously. It’s simply a look backwards at the things you have already done. Sometimes, we (and by we, I mean me) get so caught up in what’s next that we forget to appreciate what we have already done and checked off our bucket list.

At the heart of a Reverse Bucket List is gratitude and appreciation. A 2014 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology looked at what happened when people engaged in “grateful recounting.” Participants were randomly put into three groups — a control group, a “pride” group and a “gratitude” group. Participants in the gratitude group were asked to take some time every day for a week to write down three good things that had happened to them in the previous 48 hours and then also write about why they were grateful for those experiences. Researchers found a significant increase in a feeling of well-being for the gratitude group. They also found that gratitude amplifies memory, makes positive memories more accessible and the subjective well-being of participants continued to climb well after the week-long study had concluded.

Reverse Bucket Lists can also engage us in nostalgia, allowing us to create a “Greatest Hits” list of our own lives. In spite of its sometimes negative connotations of being a “downer” or a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause” by Johannes Hoffer, the Swiss doctor who coined the term “nostalgia” in 1688, it can actually be something that “serves a crucial existential function. It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives,” according to researchers quoted in a New York Times article.

So how do you create a Reverse Bucket List? That part is simple — write down accomplishments that you are proud of and voilá — you have your list. If you are looking for easy ways to jog your memory, check your social media accounts. Facebook even does this “Year in Review” thing that does it for you. Easy peasy.

These do not have to be life-changing moments, although they can be. They can be little things, too. Did you teach a child to ride a bike or how to drive a car? Those are accomplishments. Did you learn how to drive a stick shift? Surf the perfect wave? Let your 4-year old niece “style” your hair? Those count, too. Graduated from high school? Took classes in something you loved? Learned a second (or third) language? Did something you were scared of? Tried a new food and loved it? (Or maybe hated it but did it anyway?) Again, those can all go on your Reverse Bucket List.

As you do this list, even if you only spend 10 minutes on it, I bet you will see that you have checked many things off your bucket list. You might even notice that what you once thought to be impossible is now a fait accompli that you can — and should — be proud of. Here’s a fist bump from me. Way to go.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, is off to create her own Reverse Bucket List. High on the list is “be a mom,” and so it “get a master’s degree.”