Your New Year’s ‘bucket list’: Tattoos, soul mates and weight loss?

The Bucket List
Warner Bros. Pictures
Jack Nicholson, left, and Morgan Freeman play terminally ill patients who escape from a cancer ward and begin crossing things off their to-do list in “The Bucket List,” opening Dec. 25.

The following scenario would satisfy nine popular goals: Run a marathon (1) with your soul mate (2) after losing weight (3) and learning Italian (4) and then celebrate by getting a tattoo (5) and writing a book (6) that changes the world (7), lifts you out of debt (8) and sends your name to the top of a Google search (9).

Are any of these on your list of New Year’s resolutions?

If so, you’re in good company.

They’re big hits on www.43things.com, a 3-year-old website that lists more than 1 million goals from some 1.3 million people. Each goal has its own group where you can swap tips with like-minded runners or dieters or knitters, encourage each other with “cheers” and sign up for weekly reminders to keep you on track.

The founder, Josh Peterson, a former Amazon.com executive who runs the site’s parent company, Robot Co-Op, decided 43 was “the right number” of goals for a busy person to set. And though the number is arbitrary, it seems to have stuck.

The site provides a fascinating entry into the private world of life-long dreams, the kind that have been locked up in diaries for centuries. The goals range from the ambitious (climb Mount Everest) to the hip (go green) to the mundane (floss). Some of the goals, such as sky diving, appear in the “Bucket List,” which opens Christmas Day. In it, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two terminally ill men who ditch their cancer ward and set out on a road trip to chase down all the things they want to do before kicking the bucket.

43 Things knits a community out of seemingly idiosyncratic goals, says Tauna Brown, 26, a seminary student and chronic goal-setter from St. Paul. “It seems many people have the same life goals I have.” The website compelled Brown to tackle some of her shelved ambitions, including: traveling the world, making more friends, learning another language and having babies.

The neatest feature of 43 Things is its popularity index; it tells you how many people have committed to each goal. Pieced together, you get a telling portrait of our priorities. Here’s a sample:

· Become friends with Paris Hilton (17)

· Live in a mansion (53)

· Accept compliments gracefully (82)

· Get married and STAY married (260)

· Have better handwriting (487)

· Stop throwing clothes on the floor (800)

· Learn to tango (927)

· Play strip poker (1,302)

· Work because I like to, not because I have to (2,912)

· Find passwords (3,194)

· Stop biting my nails (5,486)

You can gauge just how overweight we are:

· Lose 8 pounds (71)

· Lose 20 pounds (5,244)

· Lose 30 pounds (4,090)

· And you’ll spot surprising parallels, like the fact that these three goals have nearly the same number of members:

· Beat my depression (1,366)

· Be debt free (1,385)

· Be a better blogger (1,398)

You can track patterns by reading “People doing this are also doing these things.” For example, the people who want to be famous also want to “become more punk” and “fill a swimming pool with Jell-O.” Those who are striving to become first in a Google search of their names are also pursuing better posture and have gmail accounts. And the afternoon-kindergarten alums still struggling to get a leg up by becoming morning people also hope to “influence future generations” and, while they’re at it, “learn more about car maintenance.”

I don’t know what to make of these patterns (particularly the Jell-O one), but it’s fun to don your psychologist hat and try to draw conclusions.

Like Post Secret, the site that features anonymous “secrets” illustrated on postcards, 43 Things is a voyeur’s delight. But it’s decidedly sunnier than Post Secret, with its practical suggestions and “cheers,” which may help explain why 43 Things elicits more than three times the traffic. Perhaps we humans are more constructive than confessional. (Isn’t that a refreshing thought?)

So log on and get going on your New Year’s resolutions — unless you’re one of the 463 people vowing to “spend less time online.”

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