Create a Reverse Bucket List – An Exercise in Gratitude and Pride

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You might have bucket list filled with wishes you hope to one day fulfill. But what about a reverse bucket list? Writing down your achieved goals gives a sense of gratitude and pride. Creating a reverse bucket list provides an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve already accomplished instead of always longing for something else. 

Create a Reverse Bucket List - An Exercise in Gratitude and Pride

Why make a reverse bucket list

Wanting more, more, more is exhausting and can feel defeating. It is important to celebrate your accomplishments by pausing to look back and be thankful for how much you’ve experienced, rather than only wishing for more. According to Gretchen Rubin in her book, The Happiness Project, “Gratitude is important to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy, because when you’re grateful for what you have, you’re not consumed with wanting something different or something more.”

As an executive career transition counselor, my dad advises job seekers and career switchers to write down ALL of their life’s accomplishments. This means spelling out not just the career-related stuff like how you increased sales by 10 percent, but also writing about that time you caught the line drive to third base to win the game in Little League. Creating a reverse bucket list is a confidence booster and can help define what you want out of your professional and personal life.

Grand Canyon (Photo credit: Satish Arikkath)

Grand Canyon (Photo credit: Satish Arikkath, purchased from

My reverse bucket list

Here’s my reverse bucket list, full of 55 travel and life journey events, in a mostly chronological order.

1. Visited my first foreign country: Mexico.

2. Listened to the haunting sound of loons while canoe-camping in Northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

3. Stood in awe at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

4. Sang a solo in a summer camp production of “Fiddler on the Roof”.

5. Climbed to the Statue of Liberty‘s Crown.

6. Won lots of ribbons in English horseback riding competitions.

7. Was awarded a school bus trip to Disneyland for good student citizenship in middle school.

8. Embarked on a 8th grade school tour of Washington DC; this parent-free trip is partially responsible for my ongoing wanderlust.

9. Saw my first ever live rock concert: my all-time favorite band, U2.

10. Took an English horseback riding lesson in England.

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece (Photo credit: Il-Fede, purchased from

11. Stood atop the Eiffel Tower.

12. Drank beer in a German Beer Garden in Munich.

13. Visited a German concentration camp and cried and prayed for peace and kindness to prevail.

14. Stood on the Swiss Alps.

15. Visited the Acropolis in Athens.

16. Fell in love for the first time…but not the last!

17. Lived with a French family in their home for one month.

18. Stood on the Beaches of Normandy…which led to a major life breakthrough.

19. Adopted my first and favorite cat ever, Toester, the cat with extra toes.

20. Visited Hawaii (one more island to go!).

The Trevi Fountain in Rome

The Trevi Fountain in Rome (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

21. Attended one year of college in Montpellier, France.

22. Returned to my former host family’s home in Cherbourg, France—this time able to converse easily in French.

23. Visited the former Soviet Union – Latvia, Czech Republic, and Hungary.

24. Saw Strawberry Fields (an orphanage) and Penny Lane in Liverpool.

25. Kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland.

26. Saw Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in-person and threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

27. Had my photo taken pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

28. Traveled through Europe for seven weeks, four of which were solo. 

29. Saw and touched portions of the Berlin Wall during a visit to the former East Germany.

30. Walked through Anne Frank’s attic home in Amsterdam.

Young and in love on my wedding day in 2001 in San Diego

Young and in love on my wedding day in 2001 in San Diego

31. Discovered some of my Finnish, Swedish and Irish heritage in Finland, Sweden and Ireland.

32. Stood in the Arctic Circle in Finland.

33. Graduated college with honors.

34. Moved away from my family and friends in Arizona to start a new life in Minnesota.

35. Stepped outside of my comfort zone and took one year of improvisation classes.

36. Worked in various areas of business (finance, human resources, non-profit marketing) and learned what I DON’T want to do with my life.

37. Moved away from my family and friends in Minnesota to start a new life in San Diego.

38. Married someone I love.

39. Embarked on a relaxing, romantic honeymoon in Jamaica.

40. Earned an MBA.

Kauai, Hawaii with my first born

Kauai, Hawaii with my first born (Photo credit Phil Grossfield)

41. Went wine tasting in Napa Valley (many times).

42. Bought my first house.

43. Adopted my first of two dogs.

44. Became a mom to a baby girl!

45. Was a proud stay-at-home mom.

46. Volunteered as a reading tutor for homeless children.

47. Swam with dolphins in The Bahamas.

48. Paid off all of my credit card debt. (I’ll get there again someday!)

49. Set sail on my first cruise.

50. Wandered through the ruins of Pompeii.

And baby makes four!

And baby makes four! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

51. Ate the world’s best cannoli during lunch at a Sicilian farmhouse.

52. Had a second child, this time a boy!

53. Found my path—writing! Launched

54. Got my first article published in a national magazine.

55. Signed with an agent for my book, The Travel Mamas’ Guide.

My book, The Travel Mamas' Guide

My book, The Travel Mamas’ Guide

Your reverse bucket list

I hope you’ll take some time to document the goals you’ve already achieved. Creating a reverse bucket list is particularly helpful when you’re going through a period of transition or you’re feeling overwhelmed by never-ending to-do lists (like I am right now as my family prepares for a move from California to Arizona). It gives a sense of accomplishment and joy to see how far you’ve come in achieving your life’s goals.

As with all things, I believe the key is balance. It’s important to have gratitude for all that you have already accomplished AND to set goals and envision what you want in the future. My dreams don’t end with this reverse bucket list. Check out my current bucket list to see what I’m hoping to do next!

Have you ever created a reverse bucket list? What’s on your list? Let us know in the comments below!

Top photo of the Eiffel Tower by Elena R., purchased from istockphoto.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Lisa Goodmurphy says

    I love this idea! It’s so easy to get caught up in “what next?” that it’s nice to pause and think about all the amazing things that we have accomplished already!

  2. Amanda C. says

    Love it!! And thanks for the mention!

  3. Ellen Lanin says

    I remember Maslow’s list of needs and how it was important to reach self-actualization by the time a person was well into adulthood in order to be able to look back and feel pride in one’s life. This article reminds me of how important “looking back” is. If you talk to most people they would say the pride they feel in their children is uppermost.

  4. The GypsyNesters says

    What a great idea! Really got us thinking. It is always good to look back and be thankful for all of the things life has brought us.

  5. Katie Garcia says

    What a great idea! I might start one of these for each of my kids, too, and they can take over when they’re older. It’s so easy to be swept up in future plans, this is a nice reminder to appreciate your past achievements, too. Thanks!
    (By the way, you’ve done some amazing things – that’s quite a reverse bucket list!)

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Thank you, Katie! What a wonderful idea to make a reverse bucket list for your kids. I should do that too!

  6. Monnette says

    Great idea! This is an antidote for FOMO.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Monnette – I had to Google FOMO :-). Agreed! I hope you will make a reverse bucket list too – lots of fun!

  7. Hi! I Loved your article,and yes gratitude is the venue for happiness.I would love to read the 40 things this SoCal mom of two achieved before she turned 40 but it doesn’t open.I hope I can read it soon.Thank you!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Hi HappyMom – Thanks for the heads up about the broken link! I’ve reached out to the author to see what happened. It looks like she may have shut down her blog…or maybe she just moved it?! I’ll fix the link when and if I can.

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