If you were to draw up a list of things you want to do before you kick the proverbial bucket, how many experiences would you dream up? Marshall Stevenson tried to restrict himself to 100 items, but posting the list on Facebook prompted friends to remind him of a few more. As seen on his blog, the list now stands at a daunting 130.
Stevenson, a Calgary IT entrepreneur, says his life motto essentially boils down to “why not?” That sort of attitude has led to him whipping down a bobsled track, running several marathons and entering a local qualifier for the infamous Nathan’s hot dog eating contest (he missed the mark by three dogs). Some adventures, such as speeding down the side of Hawaii’s Haleakala volcano on a bicycle, would be costly for anyone else to replicate. But in all the fun, Stevenson, 36, has forgotten what most of his adventures cost. “Life is about memories, right?”
Whatever they set him back, experiences are likely to prove wise investments in Stevenson’s overall life satisfaction. Ryan Howell, an associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and co-founder of beyondthepurchase.org, says research has consistently demonstrated that experiences deliver more happiness than material objects, dollar for dollar. “There’s been over a decade of research that says people should pay for experiences as opposed to material items,” he says.
Yet it’s difficult for most people to put that into practice. We trick ourselves into thinking clothing, electronics and big-ticket goodies will benefit us over a longer span than a brief experience such as skydiving. Howell says we often underestimate how many times we’re going to “reconsume” the memory, basking in its glow. “Memories stay with you. If you go on a great holiday, you always remember it. If you buy a pair of jeans, a week later they might go out of fashion,” says James Michaels, co-owner of Calgary’s Lux Day Experiences. Michaels and his sister Sev recently immigrated from London, hoping to bring to Canada a service that’s already well developed back home in England: Companies that curate and package bucket-list-type experiences and offer them for sale online. You bring the dream, Lux Day makes the arrangements.
Albertans with a few items to cross off the bucket list can turn to Lux Day whether they’re yearning for a spin in a private jet ($1,100), a “rock star experience” that includes being chauffeured to a recording studio ($1,700), and of course the trusty old jumping-out-of-a-plane experience ($260 to $300).
Bucket-list adventures don’t always need to be glitzy or rough-and-tumble. Thinking more widely, a cooking class or tasting menu would suit the gourmand. For sports or entertainment fans, hiring a famous person to show up at a party cost just a few thousand dollars. For the more studious, summer programs at Oxford or Cambridge allow adults to take classes for a couple of weeks for about $4,000.
Howell, the psychology researcher, says the experience should increase our sense of satisfaction and well-being if it fulfills certain criteria: Speaking to our core values (volunteering abroad for example); making us feel more competent at something; or bringing us together with loved ones. If a purchase ticks at least one of these three boxes, he says, “That purchase is going to make you happier.”
What you want to avoid is creating regrets by missing opportunities, says James Brett. A 46-year-old living in Toronto, Brett sold his audiovisual equipment rental company last year, and completing the bucket list is now his life’s work. Over the years, Brett has slept at the Playboy Mansion, flown first class on an Emirates A380 to see the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and wheedled his way into manning the soundboard for his favourite band, Erasure (“I was literally shaking with joy” when the first notes came out of the speakers, he says).
But it still nags at him that he turned down his chance to fly on the Concorde—and because the supersonic passenger aircraft was retired in 2003, he never will. “You’ve got to do it as quickly as you can. If I miss that moment, that moment may never come back,” he says of completing the bucket list. Still, “You have to do it prudently.”
Stevenson, owner of the 130-item bucket list, agrees. Buyer’s remorse rarely happens with experiences. Even an awful vacation or your momentary terror at high altitude becomes an anecdote to savour afterwards. “You get buyer’s remorse a lot more from buying things than you do with a vacation or a hot dog eating contest,” Stevenson says. Then he remembers what it was like to scarf down 10 hot dogs in 10 minutes, and grants: “Well, I had some remorse for that.” (See Stevenson’s list.)