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The Retroactive Bucket List

by Jeremy McCarthy
Savor what you’ve already experienced, instead of stressing over what you haven’t done.

Last summer, I had an incredible vacation in Cap Ferret, France. I had never heard of Cap Ferret, but my wife had friends who vacation there each year, and they were gracious enough to take us in and introduce us to all that the region has to offer.

And the region has a lot to offer. Cap Ferret is a peninsula on the west coast which is uniquely appointed with a calm bay along one side, perfect for sailing or boating or bathing; spectacular beaches along the ocean side, perfect for both beginning and advanced surfers or for children to play in the waves; and a lush green forest in-between, with a web of bike paths that accommodate the preferred mode of transportation in the area.

The natural scenery is diverse and spectacular everywhere you go.

On my way home from France, basking in the sun-kissed afterglow of days of surfing, playing with my kids and slurping oysters while sipping rosé and watching the sunset, I couldn’t help but feel supremely blessed. I felt lucky to have discovered this new part of the planet, happy to have so many wonderful new memories to cherish and so grateful to have shared the experience with my family.

This led me to thinking about other amazing experiences I have had in my life, such as hiking to hidden waterfalls in Maui, trekking to Machu Picchu or marrying my wife on the beaches of Mexico.  I decided to create a “retroactive bucket list” to remember and savor all of the amazing experiences that I have had in my life.

If you’ve heard of the “bucket list,” you know this is not how it’s supposed to work.  The idea is to write down all the things you want to do before you do them (and before you kick the bucket).  But there are a few problems with this:

1. You might not know what the great experiences of your life will be.  I had never heard of Cap Ferret, so there is no way I could have included it on my bucket list in advance.  Conversely, there may be other experiences that could have ended up being far less satisfying or meaningful than I would have predicted.

2. You might feel rushed.  I don’t think creating a bucket list is a bad idea.  We are, after all, goal-striving creatures.  But a long list of things you must see or do before you die could make your time on Earth feel harried or stressed.  The retroactive bucket list allows you to relax and savor what you’ve accomplished, rather than focusing on things you haven’t done.

3. You might feel regret. The world is filled with so many incredible places, people and opportunities for experience—there is no way to do them all.  When my wife and I left Cap Ferret, we promised ourselves we would go back again next year.  But we said the same thing when we left the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Barbados. The retroactive bucket list allows you to cherish the things you have done in this life rather than regret all the ones you haven’t.

Maybe there are things you would like to do, places you would like to see or goals you would like to accomplish before you die. But don’t forget about what you have already seen and done. Don’t forget your retroactive bucket list. You have already lived an amazing life.

JEREMY McCARTHY is director of global spa development and operations for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Read more of his writing at psychologyofwellbeing.com.

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