Problem: The problem is The Bucket List. The 2007 Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman film introduced the non-italicized non-capitalized term “bucket list” (a list of things one wants to do before one "kicks the bucket") into our vocabulary. Sure, it’s often a punch line, but it’s also a reminder one day we will die and before we do, will we have done enough extraordinary things to feel okay about it? (It is never, never, never enough.) This is a conception of a good life as a collection of Life tiles, the ones you’d get at the end of the board game that said things like “Write the Great American Novel” or “Swim English Channel.”
Are those the moments that make us happy? Or can we find our joy in smaller, everyday moments? A study forthcoming from the Journal of Consumer Research says it depends on how old we are.
Methodology: Researchers at Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania first measured the happiness brought by extraordinary versus ordinary experiences simply by asking people. They had 221 participants aged 18 to 79 recall either an extraordinary or ordinary moment and rate how much it contributed to their happiness.
Ordinary, happy experiences included things like “I had a long and fun conversation with my son,” and “Getting a yummy frappuccino!” Examples of extraordinary experiences from the study include “Went on a vacation to Hawaii” and “Watching the birth of kittens.”