Bucket List Bliss: Visiting all 46 National Parks

Gary visits his 46th National Park at the Channel Islands

As the ferry approached Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of California, I think I got more excited that this was Gary’s LAST national park than he was.  I asked him how he was going to celebrate and he replied, “I have not even stepped foot on the island yet.” He had a beer to celebrate!  I thought this was more of a champagne celebration!

Bucket List Bliss

When I ask people what do you want? The number one answer is, “I want to win the lottery!”  Studies have shown that money does not create happiness. Scientists believe 10% comes from “circumstantial happiness” (like the weather and elections), 50% is determined at birth and 40% is what we control.

Life lists, or bucket lists, are common to high achievers, and the creation and pursuit of your life list can help boost your 40% intentional happiness. And, it sure is fun and rewarding to check things off your list.

High Performers

People who “move the world” with their passion, energy and perseverance all have prioritized goal lists.  Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, started every day with a prioritized goal list. She tackled the hardest one first.

Michael Phelps kept his list of life goals on his nightstand so that was the first thing he saw when he started each day of grueling workouts.

Chere and Gary at the Channel Island's National Park, checking the last item off of Gary's Bucket List

I would have never ever traveled to the Channel Islands if Gary had not had the islands on his bucket list. I would have missed the unique miniature island foxes that we found by the campsites searching for food and are only about 5 pounds and almost went extinct and the gorgeous tide pools.

We love lists!

Those who know me well know my family likes lists.  We spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to effectively use the kid’s vacation days and our budget to visit every state before Danielle went to college. We had the goal for so long it almost was depressing when we visited Alaska, our last state.  Positive coaching psychology research has shown that one of the hallmarks of a happy person is the creating, pursuing and achieving of their goals.  And I must admit it was a positively happy experience traveling and experiencing every state with the kids.

Gary has quite an extensive bucket list. Two years ago, when he retired, he had 13 National Parks left.  With much dedicated planning, time and energy he visited the Channel Islands, his last National Park in the continental United States in in May.

How did he do it?

Chere on Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island has many trails around Scorpion Canyon. The sun was shining and despite starting out the day in winter jackets the day got warmer and felt like summer even in May.


Gary manages his energy instead of his time. He creates energy through his two hour work out each day. Before retirement, he worked out twice a day before work and during lunch hour. Moving his body makes him happy. Studies have shown self-care builds something called “inner abundance,” which means you are rested and calm and can face the challenges life brings you.  Even though he had a very stressful job, he always came home even keeled like the “same Gary.”


Gary has a little yellow pad of paper with his “lists” always at the ready on the kitchen counter. He keeps his bucket lists on the computer and when they are completed they are highlighted in red.  When you write down your goals you pre-commit to a course of action, creating accountability to yourself. And when you share your goals with others you add another layer of accountability.

Organize and Plan    

Gary studies his National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States  and Rand McNally Road Atlas often and is either doing mental trip planning or physical trip planning. He makes lists of what to take and always keeps them updated. If your bucket list is long, break it into categories like Gary does – vacations, national parks and original bucket list.  The more narrow your focus, the more achievable your goals.

We took the boat with Island Packers from Ventura Harbor at 10 am and returned on the 3:30 boat. I was worried it would not be enough time, but it was perfect. On the trip out we saw dolphins, lots of them, and the boat captain pointed them out and stopped for viewing.

3 Ways to Start on Your Life List

  1. Ask people you know what is on their life or bucket list.
  2. Join a social networking site that is devoted to life lists. Check out mylifelist.com or www.your100things.com or www.43things.com
  3. Buy the book and complete the list “100 Hundred Things to Do Before I Die

Quick Start – Identifying Your Values

Value Finder - Commit to Live your Top Values

The easiest way to start on your happiness journey is to identify your values. I have made this easy for you with the Value Finder. And goals anchored to your values give you more zest for life which others quickly notice and want for themselves too.

A good life list gives you optimism and hope for the future and is aligned with your values.

Graham Greene reminds us “We are all resigned to death, its life we aren’t resigned to.”

Live like this is your last day, someday it will be!  Forever, I hold in my heart my sweet brother in law who was given 5 months to live and passed sooner at the early age of 60.  His passing reminds me there are no guarantees. We have one life to live— just imagine it was one we truly loved. Today is your day. Better get busy!

We want to hear what is on your bucket or life list. And we would love to see how we could connect you with someone to make your bucket list come true.

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