Life Goals vs. Bucket List: What’s the Difference?

Living your best life includes accomplishing epic goals and checking fantastic adventures off your bucket list.

The two ideas sound so similar, but there are subtle differences. For a happy life, you must pursue both. 

Bucket List vs Life Goals: What’s the Difference?

Bucket lists and life goals describe what you want to do in your life. The difference lies in how much time and effort you dedicate to them. 

Your bucket list consists of activities you want to experience, while your life goals highlight feats you wish to accomplish. Bucket list activities are easier to achieve, while life goals are dreams you work hard toward accomplishing. 

It gets tricky, though. Sometimes, your bucket list and life goals overlap into a Venn diagram.  Some activities rest in the middle and could fit under either. 

What’s a Bucket List

A bucket list is a list of activities you want to experience during your time on this planet. It’s everything you want to do before you kick the proverbial bucket.

People put all sorts of wild things on their bucket lists, from scaling mountains to visiting exotic locales. The lists often burst with adrenaline-pumping activities like white water rafting, skydiving, hot air ballooning, and more.

It’s a fun list that helps people live life to the fullest and enjoy the world around them in all its glory.

What’s a Life Goal

A life goal is something you want to accomplish.

People’s life goals burst with achievement. They strive to earn advanced degrees, become professionals, and conquer their fears.

A life goal could be considered a subset of bucket list activities. People put life goals on their lists all the time, but there’s a drastic difference between seeing a live comedy show and becoming a stand-up comedian (bucket list activity vs life goal). Both could be on your bucket list, but only one is a life goal. 

The Difference is a Matter of Perspective

There is no exact line between bucket lists and life goals. It’s often a matter of perspective and ability.

Wealthy people without physical limitations can travel whenever they want. Visiting places like London, Paris, and Rome could be on their bucket list. They’ll do it when they get around to it.

However, others might spend a lifetime saving for a trip to Europe. Visiting these three iconic cities could be an ultimate life goal that takes years to accomplish. 

The difference between life goals and bucket lists is personal. If it’s a fun, cool thing you want to do someday, it’s likely a bucket list activity. If you view it as an epic goal you spend your life working towards, it’s a life goal.

Life Goals vs. Bucket List

The difference between life goals and bucket list ideas is dabbling vs. dedication, doing vs. becoming, learning vs. mastering, and fun vs. passion. 

Here’s how you can tell the difference

Dabbling vs. Dedication

The difference between life goals and bucket list activities is trying something for fun and dedicating your life to that thing.

Taking a half-day lesson and surfing the gentle waves in Hawaii is a fantastic item for your bucket list. Learning to read the waves, balance your body, and feel capable of navigating the world’s most impressive surf would be a life goal.

Learning to surf at a beginner’s level doesn’t take much time or effort. It’s fun, and almost anyone can do it. But learning the ins and outs of surfing and gaining the ability to ride dangerous waves takes far more effort. People dedicate their entire lives to it.

That’s a life goal.

The same is true for nearly any sport or activity. Anyone can ski, ride a horse, or fly a kite, and it’s fun to say they did it. Learning the ins and outs of something takes far more time and commitment.

Doing vs. Becoming

Bucket lists are about doing something, while life goals are about becoming something.

Anyone can paint a picture, write a book, or pick up an instrument. We probably won’t be good at it, but it’s fun to try.

It takes exceptional talent and dedication to become a painter, a writer, or a musician. 

Learning vs. Mastering

Bucket lists are for learning and exploring. Take a physics class, read a book about the Civil War, or dabble in art. Learning new things is fun and keeps us engaged in the world.

Life goals aren’t about surface-level knowledge; they’re about mastery. You live and breathe a topic, soaking up everything there is to know about it.

People’s life goals have them becoming experts in their fields. They were the world-renowned leaders in 17th-century German poetry or the social ramifications of the Russian Revolution.

Life goals lead to obtaining credentials, degrees, and certificates, which we dedicate a lot of time and effort to achieving.

Fun Vs. Passion

Bucket lists keep our lives engaging. They allow us to try new things and have fun in our lives.

Life goals are about pursuing a passion. It’s not something you do once and put aside; it’s something you love, so you constantly pursue it daily.

Passions can be fun, too. Most of us pursue our passions because we enjoy them, but they’re far more than that. There’s an inner drive to achieve that can’t be satiated by turning our attention elsewhere.

It’s something we dedicate our lives to achieving.

You Need Both for a Happy Life

Though life goals are a little broader in scope than bucket list activities, you need both for a fulfilling life.

Knocking adventurous activities off your bucket list gives you a sense of accomplishment. You can look back at your life and know you weren’t afraid to jump out of an airplane or swim with the dolphins.

They’re also fun. Life is about constant engagement; doing new and exciting things provides that engagement.

Sometimes, they even lead to your life goals. You didn’t know how much you loved skiing until you knocked it off your bucket list, but now you’re a skier for life and have a life goal to ski the best courses in the world!

You need life goals for self-actualization. They set you on your journey to a satisfying life and help you challenge yourself until you meet your full potential.

Have Lots of Life Goals and Bucket List Ideas

To live a happy life, you should embrace both life goals and complete a robust bucket list. Focus on the things you love most with your life goals, but sample the wonderful delicacies the world offers by checking cool stuff off your bucket list.

Author: Melanie Allen

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Pursuing Your Passions, Travel, Wellness, Hobbies, Finance, Gaming, Happiness

Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation and is a certified happiness life coach. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life.