Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bucket lists and happiness types

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast, and a discussion about light pollution mentioned that most city dwellers never see the Milky Way or a good dark night sky full of stars. I said, "I'll add that to my bucket list", and I do plan to spend a night star gazing in a dark place one day.

This got me thinking that I don't really have much of a bucket list. This is a list of things people aim to do, and it usually includes exceptional experiences or achievements that would not happen in the course of everyday life, unless you make a special effort. The list can have several categories, such as personal achievements, travel, and hobbies. Here's what I think of as my bucket list:

  • Personal achievement: Write and publish books that I believe might contribute to change in the world through changing the thinking of some readers.
  • Travel: There are many places I'd like to visit or revisit.
  • Social: I have many friends and relatives living abroad whom I'd like to meet or re-meet.
  • Music: I'd like to hear some more of my favourite artists perform live.
  • Experience: I'd like to be able to live in London for a few months, without having to worry about making an income, and just explore the city, take photos, and write.
  • Hobbies: I want to spend more time on crafts and decorative hobbies, such as cross-stitch, sea glass, and colouring books.

Looking at this list, it doesn't seem as impressive as some people's lists. This is partly because I don't feel the need for some extreme experiences. I don't dream of skydiving or running a marathon. I feel no desire to meet celebrities, even writers or artists I admire. I also think I'm quite realistic about what I aim for. I am actively working on writing books and on my hobbies. Most of these list items are likely to happen over the next few years, perhaps apart from living in London, which seems to depend on money and the right circumstances. Travel, meeting people, and going to shows also depend on opportunities arising, but are within the realm of feasibility.

Part of the reason for my not really thinking about having a bucket list is the different types of happiness. There is joy, which is a passing sense of pleasure resulting from a short-term experience, and there is contentment, which is a state of general satisfaction with one's life. I have always focused more on finding contentment. For me, this involves having stability in my life. I have a happy marriage, work I usually enjoy, a comfortable home, a cat, my creative projects (including this blog), and my life tends to be calm and fulfilling. Now and then there are good experiences that give me joy, in addition to the general contentment. But I don't feel that I'm missing out if I don't travel for a few years, or if weeks go by with my usual routine unchanged.

Perhaps this is partly because I'm an introvert, and so it doesn't take much stimulation to satisfy me. Perhaps it's partly because some of the extreme experiences in my life have been negative, such as living through a few wars and the constant threat of terrorism. I don't feel that I need to have positive extreme experiences to balance out the negative ones, just a stable, calm routine is good enough for me.

Maybe my bucket doesn't need to be filled with a long list of short-term experiences because it's already full up with contentment with my everyday life.

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