Kicking the bucket or living life to the full? Socio- psychological motivations for compiling a bucket list

Zascerinska, Santa (2022) Kicking the bucket or living life to the full? Socio- psychological motivations for compiling a bucket list. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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In 2007, The Bucket List movie was released. It portrayed the story of two terminally ill men who, both with only one year left to live, decide to leave the hospital for the biggest
adventure of their lifetime. To do that, they compile a bucket list, which is a list of things they want to do in what remains of their lifetime. Since the release of the movie, the
concept of the ‘bucket list’ has not only become frequently referred to in books, travel guides, films and advertising; it has also been widely adopted by people of all ages and
not necessarily facing a terminal illness. Despite its popularity, however, there is a significant gap in the literature with regards to the bucket list, in particular from a tourism perspective. Indeed, the findings from this thesis not only confirm the prevalence of tourism on the typical bucket list, but also explain the motives for having tourism-orientated goals on the list. Yet, to date, only a handful of studies examine bucket lists, predominantly from a gerontological perspective, with just one paper appraising bucket lists from a tourism perspective. Therefore, this thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by both addressing the gap in the literature focusing on the bucket list phenomenon in general as well as utilising an original theory to explain the nature of the bucket.

Essentially, the aim of this thesis was to explore critically why people compile bucket lists. However, the underlying question is whether bucket lists are concerned primarily with living life to the full or with the fear of death, of ‘kicking the bucket’. To address this question, Terror Management Theory is employed. This theory posits that people seek meaning in life, in part, to manage insecurities related to the awareness of their death. In other words, by perceiving their lives as meaningful, individuals keep their existential concerns at bay. Not only do bucket lists manifest a negotiation of life’s expectancy, but also signify a life well lived, a mark of ‘having been there’.

To explore the meaning, nature and motives behind bucket lists, the research in this thesis follows a pragmatism approach through the use of mixed methods. First, data were gathered through an online survey, the outcomes of which informed the subsequent 20 semi-structured interviews. The uniqueness (but also the challenge) of this research lies in the period during which it was conducted. Following the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, not only was it necessary to adapt the methods of enquiry to ensure that the research was undertaken in a safe manner; it was also both important and logical to appraise the implications of the pandemic with regards to people’s bucket lists, thereby generating original and up-to-date findings.

Inevitably, perhaps, this research reveals that bucket lists are associated with death. For many, the prospect death gives birth to their bucket lists through, often as a result of
fateful moments – an unexpected turn of destiny. For others, a fear of death is less evident within their bucket lists. What is clear however, is that life cannot proceed without the supervision of death. Yet, how individuals interpret the inevitability of their own death depends on how they live. Bucket lists, then, become a cultural symbol through which life can be validated, reimagined and memorised. With this in mind, this thesis invites the reader to travel through the bucket list journey and to arrive at their own conclusions as to what motivates people to compile a bucket list.

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