There is a consumerist, acquisitive vibe to many of the lists, with the experience they replicate being the writing of a shopping list, Perry said.
Instead of building on what you already have, “to make a good life it’s really an attempt to fill an existential void,” she added.
There is also an innate air of competition to bucket lists, of striving to best yourself — but also others. In some ways it is no surprise that they have risen in popularity in an age when we are all encouraged to brand ourselves, to treat our Facebook pages as a shop window for our achievement-rich lives.
Psychologist Linda Blair, who is writing a book called The Key to Calm, to help people deal with stress and anxiety, says chasing big experiences is worthwhile if you enjoy the whole process.
“Saving up the money, planning it with friends, and then the moment as well. I’m all for that,” she said. “But if you’re constantly living in the future, ignoring what’s going on right now because you’re shooting for goals, which happen so quickly that they’re over, and then you have to chase another one, you’re not really living.”
Could they be a useful way of dealing with the inevitability of death? Blair does not think so.
“It’s a way of denying the idea of death, not coping with it at all ... People usually do this to ensure that there are things to look forward to, which means there are things that are still going to happen ... My experience warns me that it’s probably done in order to prevent thinking about death,” she said.
Perry sees it as a way of dealing “with how to pass the time. I think it’s a way of trying to generate some excitement.”
“What we should be doing in our bucket lists is learning how to be open with our own vulnerabilities so that we can form connections with other human beings ... I think, for me, what’s wrong with the bucket list is that it’s individualistic — the idea of the isolated self goes very deep in Western society — and I think it’s a red herring ... It’s a distraction from the business of being human. We don’t all like swimming with dolphins, but we are all made to connect to each other. That’s the really fun thing to do before you die,” Perry said.