The Bucket Theory

I’m a chronic mom-caller. Like, I may live over three thousand miles away from my mother, and I may be a grown-ass thirty-year-old woman, but if I go more than 2-3 days without speaking to my mom, it’s weird. I used to call her on my way home from work, and now that I have my own place, I call her as soon as I’m home, eating my pre-made dinner on the couch while I tell her about my day and listen in turn about hers. I’ll call her on my days off when I have literally nothing new to tell her. I’ll call her when I discover pre-filled strawberry jam and cream scones for sale at Tesco. Chron-ic.

Whether it’s because I do such a faultless job of this on a regular basis, or because my mom has a tendency to feel like she’s a ‘bother’ if she’s the one that calls me (“I never know what you’re doing! You’re so busy. You could be at work.” “Mom, I keep telling you. If you call me and I’m busy, I just won’t pick up the phone.” I digress.) – my mom hardly ever calls me. But this afternoon I was off work, sitting at a coffee shop, when my phone rang and it was my mom. Calling me!

We talked about a lot of things, as we always do. Work stress, life stress, good things, challenging things. And at one point, somewhere between good things and challenging things, I mentioned my Bucket Theory. I feel like I tell everyone and their mother about my Bucket Theory, so I was 110% sure I’d already not only mentioned it to my own, but explained it in depth. But it turns out I hadn’t, and because I will never not enjoy the sound of my own voice – especially when expounding my own life views – when she said, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard about your Bucket Theory” – I LEPT at the opportunity. And as a result, the topic is fresh on my mind, and I figured no time like the present to infect the internet with it.

So here, un-asked for, is my Bucket Theory.

We spend an inordinately large amount of time while we’re growing up and getting older being told exactly What Will Make Us Happy. People, society, strangers, LIFE. They all act like there’s a one-size-fits-all formula for how to make a life for yourself that genuinely brings you joy.

What I spent my twenties doing was unlearning all of that.

Attaining happiness is only universal in that it can always be broken down into buckets. One bucket, six buckets, twenty buckets, every person is different. The buckets come in all different sizes. Maybe yours are all tiny and easily filled; maybe some are bigger, and need a regularly scheduled top up. But the constant between everyone’s buckets is this: the sum of their parts is a Satisfying, Happy Life. (Accidentally just typed Lie, and I’m gonna go ahead and ignore what that typo is trying to tell me.) The only way your buckets can be Wrong is if they hurt people in the process of being filled. As long as you have peaceful, kind buckets, I truly think your only priority in life should be to define them and fill them however you see fit.

I believe I’ve gotten to the place I am in life because I figured out what my buckets are and made a big deal out of prioritizing filling them the fuck up. Having my family in my life is a big bucket – but for me, geographic closeness isn’t a requirement of keeping that full. I rely heavily and happily on technology to do so. Having a job that’s satisfying, but also allows me creative freedom in my style and on my days off, is another big old bucket. It needs a regular top up in that I always want to feel driven and like I’m developing the people around me, but I’m quite certain my career bucket will never get any bigger. It will always play second fiddle (second…bucket?) to others.

And then there are the surprise buckets – Being Near Medieval English Things turned out to be a pretty major one. Nobody told me when I was thirteen that where I live would bring me more happiness than my college degree itself. Tattoos. Financial Independence. Writing – well, no surprise there. Seven year old Kathy could have accurately drawn the size of that bucket right after she wrote her first short story about a girl sneaking off from a family picnic to find a dragon in a hillside cave. It will probably always be my biggest bucket.

But if your career bucket is your biggest, wahey to you! You will find no judgement here. The same if being physically close to those you love is a big bucket. I get that too. Making a family. Having a dog. Achieving fame. Immersing yourself in other cultures. Helping the environment. Listening to great music. Chocolate chip cookies. They are your buckets. It is your life. Too many people get down on themselves because their buckets are different or strange or maybe even because they’re not different enough. I assure you, it doesn’t matter. Nobody has to deal with whether or not something brings you happiness and fulfillment except You.

So if you’re looking for an extra bit of happy in your life, take a look at your buckets. And once you figure them out, there are only two things you need to do: chase their fulfillment like nobody’s business, and never apologize for it.

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