Through the world of Simon Sinek, I recently stumbled across the incomparable Arthur Brooks. He's a bit of a renaissance man: scientist, musician, former think tank CEO, Harvard professor. And he's one of the most articulate people I have ever heard speak.
A social scientist by training, Brooks was hosted on one of Sinek's A Bit of Optimism podcast episodes a short while ago and shared something revelatory: We should all dump our obsession with bucket lists. Reverse bucket lists are where it's at.
Here's the idea in a nutshell: Bucket lists are filled with wants and dreams. When we get what we want or achieve our dreams, it's a nice feeling, says Brooks -- at least for a while. Then we need something else.
It all comes back to the "satisfaction formula": satisfaction = getting what you want. But you never really stop wanting things, and so, well, are you ever really satisfied?
Brooks has spent a great deal of time parsing this formula and the human behaviors that enable it. What he uncovered was a missing piece. The formula should actually look like this, he says: satisfaction = what you have/what you want.
While we can, to some extent, increase our haves, our real control lies in our wants. If we whittle down the wants, our satisfaction increases. In others words, if we create reverse bucket lists -- lists of wants to do away with -- we'll find ourselves closer to satisfaction in the present.
Easier said than done, to be sure. I started creating reverse bucket lists myself, and, quite honestly, it reaffirmed many of my wants. But then I decided to create a parallel list to help me reframe each want. On this separate list, I reconceived each want as something I could give instead of get. Why? Giving is a way to boost your mental and physical health, taking you out of your own world of wants and elevating the life of another.
What does this look like in business? As with most wants, they can be large or small. Say, for example, you want a bigger office -- but the price tag would require you to hold off on the rollout of new employee benefits or raises. Ask yourself: Do I NEED a new office? Or is it merely a want (reverse bucket list)? And if it's a want, how can I turn it instead into money, supplies, or support for my team (giving list)?
There's more to Brooks's satisfaction formula, including a general worldview that takes practice to perfect. I urge you to read more in his article in The Atlantic, posted this February. If you don't make it there, though, at least give the reverse bucket list a shot -- and find a way to turn wants into life and work-uplifting gifts for others.