According to Slate magazine, the phrase “to kick the bucket” dates back to 1785, when it was used in the context of dying. But it has evolved since then.
“In 2004, the term was used—perhaps for the first time?—in the context of things to do before one kicks the bucket— in the book Unfair & Unbalanced: The Lunatic Magniloquence of Henry E. Panky, by Patrick M. Carlisle. That work includes the sentences, “So, anyway, a Great Man, in his querulous twilight years, who doesn’t want to go gently into that blacky black night. He wants to cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!” wrote June Thomas, a Slate culture critic.
Hence, the bucket list has become in popular culture a list to make of all the things the list maker must do before kicking the bucket, or before dying. In the movie, The Bucket List, the characters listed things like kiss a beautiful woman, skydive, see something awesome, and find the joy in your life. A lot of people might list exotic places to visit, like the Taj Mahal or Paris.
I think somehow making a bucket list gives life a purpose, a direction. Narrow living down to completing activities or visiting places that have meaning and life will have been worth living. The list maker takes satisfaction in taking control of his or her life, not letting it simply happen. By taking control of life armed with a bucket list, when death approaches there will be less regret, if any.
I think the concept is interesting. But when asked the question, “What’s on your bucket list,” I couldn’t think of any one thing or list of specific things I longed to do before I die. Maybe as a writer I should have a bucket list of things I want to write: poetry, literary fiction, a children's book. I could try to do those things, bu I'm content with the books I'm writing already.
Turns out, I’m not a bucket list person. I like structure, planning, and purpose, but I’m living my life as it comes, remaining open to whatever as much as possible. I can’t imagine knowing what is ahead, so why would I prioritize a certain path that includes specific actions or places? It feels like pressure, to me, to have to meet certain goals in order to be ready to leave this life.