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If you have been paying attention to recent news, you will have heard about Rebecca Townsend, a teen who sacrificed her life for her friend’s. Family later revealed a short list the teen had written, mostly checked off, with the exception of “save someone’s life.” Check. Done. Life accomplished.

It seems that more and more young people are compelled to construct and complete a “Bucket List,” so much that the term has become common vernacular. If you’ve never heard of the term, a Bucket List is a list of things you would like to do before you die–or “kick the bucket.” Rather than being solely a reminder of our mortality, bucket lists have become a celebration of living, and living more than an average life.

I had a college roommate who inspired me to continue writing my own list, which I had started in my high-school journal, and am still constructing in a very old Word Doc sitting by itself on my desktop. Her list included “Jump rope for 1 mile,” “learn how to build a bomb,” and other things that I can’t remember because they didn’t make me fear for her life. Based on my roommate’s folded and refolded list, and the development of my own, I came up with some guidelines on how to make a certified bucket list. Here are the unspoken requirements for an activity to be worthy of listing:

  • A sense of accomplishment – Only put it on there if you will feel like you did something extraordinary. It’s ok to put some spur of the moment things on there, but your list should largely be things that will take planning and work to carry out.
  • Something unique, outside of the day-to-day routine – You can also call this rule: “It has to be fun,” but it goes a bit deeper than that. A bucket list is about escaping and living differently, so list items should be enjoyable, at least in retrospect.
  • Inspires a good story – Something they are happy to share with friends or with posterity
  • “Everybody has to do it” – Taking that picture at the Tower of Pisa where you’re holding it up
  • “Nobody else has done it” – it’s off the beaten path, and and a bucket list is all about channeling your inner poet–in this case our inner Robert Frost

A later roommate shared some of her bucket list wisdom: If it’s on your list, but you change your mind about doing it, you can cross it off. (My “breakup with someone in a helium-voice” didn’t happen before I got married, and I don’t plan on going through a divorce just to tick that off, so its getting crossed out.) And if you did something cool that wasn’t already on your list (like “see a whale in Sydney Harbor”), put it on there and immediately check it off. The purpose of a bucket list is to push you to different life experiences, not to get you closer to death by meeting all the requirements.

Bucket lists get some level of sacred treatment. It’s not something you always share, but it’s a way to reflect on the person you would like to grow to be and a gauge how far you have come. Sharing a bucket list with a person sets up a bit of an expectation that you are recruiting them to help out, to teach you something, or to join you on your next adventure.

In all of the bucket lists I have seen, I have never come across the item “Participate in Market Research.” But it certainly is something off the beaten path, it’s unique and outside the routine (or should be), and could be about something very cool and inspiring. Why are young people not raving to add this to their to-do list?

This is just the way I see it, but, Millennials do not see participating in research as a “must do” because they don’t know that this is an option, especially as traditional focus groups and phone surveys are becoming less common. Also, it’s not popular and it’s not shareable (darn those privacy agreements, scaring everyone away!). Another issue I see is that Millennials see nothing poetic or out-of-the-ordinary about participating in research. They critique products and share opinions all day every day. Being paid an incentive to do so still doesn’t take them far out of the routine and is not of the very well-worn path.

So how do we remedy this? How do we as researchers make participating in research seem genuinely inspiring, an accomplishment to share with friends and family? Really, I don’t have enough experience in the field to say. But is this even a goal we have as researchers–to get Millennials to actively participate in traditional research? They are sharing opinions–for free–and they are willing to share deeper feelings in a genuine conversation with a friend. Maybe scanning social media is the future of research, and maybe that’s not a terrible thing.

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Putting Research on the “Bucket List”

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