I am not satisfied with my life.
That's not to say my life is bad, it isn't. But that doesn't assure my brain at 3 AM when I worry about not having enough money, enough friends, and too much fat. Call it cognitive dissonance, or just life, but things don't feel right.
And I'm not the only one. A study in 2010 found that only 43 percent of people in Australia were actually pleased with their lives. From that single study—and the one from which I'll derive my entire thesis—it seems normal to believe there's some "perfect version" of ourselves out there, just slightly out of reach. And if only we all had a bit more drive and a bit more self-discipline, we could reach these personal zeniths and become the people we should be: fit, healthy, confident, and successful.
Of course, I've never actually tried being fit, healthy, confident, or successful. Frankly all those things sound like a lot of work. But life is short and I'm tired of worrying and never trying, so I made a plan. For two weeks, I'd try to be the perfect version of myself. I'd completely rework myself in how I look, how I act, and what I eat. And then I'd get to see if the perfect version of me exists, and whether I like him.
So look, I don't dress badly, but maybe my stuff is getting old. Success to me is a clean shirt and new clothes, neither of which I own. So I bought a turtleneck, a nice shirt, and a couple of blazers. Hindsight is 20/20 because I ended up looking like a mix between a maths teacher and real estate agent. But, whatever, I looked sharper than usual.
On the downside, dressing like this instantly made me look like a dick. Turtlenecks aren't as comfortable as they look, and not every situation is blazer-appropriate. This was particularly underscored one night at the pub when an old man muttered "snob" as he walked past. I sat there, feeling offended, but mostly confused because he was wearing a blazer too.
Despite these shortcomings I did feel successful. Whether or not I presented it, I'd managed to fool myself into thinking that I was a young professional but more importantly, a better version of myself.
Happiness outcome: 8/10
I don't eat how an adult should. I skip meals, I drink a lot, and sometimes I eat vegemite on a spoon instead of actually spreading it onto something.
But this lack of regard for my health isn't really a long term option. So I decided to give myself a strict diet plan. I'm a vegan, and I found an online nutrition guide designed just for vegans (because trust me, we CAN change the world!!!). It recommended eating at least four serves of nuts, legumes, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains per day, and at least two serves of fruit. This seemed super doable.
But it wasn't.
Turns out 14 days of a sticking to a rigid diet is fucking difficult and boring. At first, it's easy: you're excited and cooking is kind of fun. But then, after about a week, you're so over these intense, highly specific meals void of sugar or joy. You find yourself exclusively drinking green smoothies or ordering pizza with extra vegetables, because that somehow justifiably works.
To me, this is the problem with eating healthy. It just consumes so much emotional bandwidth. You have to plan everything ahead, spend an obscene amount of money, and basically make your meals a main priority. You can't go out for dinner or drink too much because it doesn't align with a perfect diet. So now I don't know what my healthy eating future looks like.
Eating healthy is tedious, but it keeps you alive. That's a real contradiction.
Happiness outcome: 5/10
Like a healthy diet, exercise is something I find exciting for about 10 minutes before conjuring excuses. I've got gym memberships I never use, and weights that hold my bedroom door open. But, obviously, that had to change. So I called every local crossfit gym to see if they'd take me on as a student, despite having no experience. Only one did because the head trainer liked VICE, and that was Crossfit Victoria.
If you ignore the times I couldn't squat, or climb ropes, or barely hold back vomit, it was a highly liberating experience. I didn't think I could've done crossfit before this, but I could, and it actually felt kind of amazing. I may have broken my body in the process, but I was stronger, fitter and a lot more confident in myself for accomplishing something that no one believed I could've done, least of all myself.
Happiness outcome: 7/10
I'm an anxious person. I worry daily if I'm good enough, I blank people on the street because I'm too nervous to say hello, and then really struggle to maintain eye contact when I do. I once even had a panic attack after I broke a bottle in public. A few years back, I tried to address this stuff with yoga, but realised I lack balance and didn't feel any better. So this time I decided to try meditation.
I decided I'd have lots of hot, peaceful baths, infused with essential oils. I'd read that eucalyptus, lavender, and roses all calm the mind. A girl at Lush told me a chamomile face mask would "calm my pores" and "would probably calm me down as well" so I incorporated all this into a daily bath ritual to unwind and meditate.
The part I hadn't considered was that I live in a sharehouse with other people who would need to use the bathroom. Also, my housemates weren't thrilled when I clogged the plug with rose petals. And then there was the fact that I had no metric to measure my meditation against. How do you know when you're nailing it? When you're levitating? I guess I felt less stressed, but it's hard to tell if that was a placebo effect, or if mediation is basically about celebrating placebo effects. Again, how do you know if you're nailing it?
Happiness outcome: 4/10
We should all give more, so I joined the St Vincent de Paul Society's Soup Van. The Soup Van provides food to those in need every single night, and is entirely run by volunteers.
The first thing I noticed was that most of the people I was working alongside were 19-year-old high-achieving, amazing university students who were studying medicine or alchemy or whatever and were—on top of everything else—running an entire soup van. That made me realise my perfect self was half as good as their regular selves, and that was bad. But then it wasn't about it me, right?
The upside was that I actually, finally, gave something back. Volunteering isn't glamorous and you do get down and dirty, but that's half the journey. You might get a sense of community you're helping someone to not starve. And that's unquestionably a good thing.
Happiness outcome: 8/10
I'm not romantic. In fact, I'm the opposite. I've rocked up late to dates, been drunk, and sometimes both. I rarely show affection and the last time I did anything romantic I took my ex-girlfriend to the aquarium. Actually, now I think about it, the last time I saw said ex-girlfriend, she punched me in the head in broad daylight while a cop was giving me a fine for jaywalking. So I consider myself bad at romance, which obviously needed to change.
I got my friend to set up a blind date for me and her friend Kiki. I don't have any money so it was at La Porchetta, which laugh all you want, serves a litre of red wine for $15. Bargain. Also Kiki didn't mind La Porchetta. I'd even say she liked it... as much as my she liked my new look. And I think the date went well. Even though my photographer friend took photos the whole time, and the restaurant's staff kept ask about DICE Magazine, and we spent half an hour talking about war, I think it went well.
The only thing was that I wasn't sure whether I should pursue something more. Was it a date? Or was it a pretend date for an article? In the end I didn't have to worry because Kiki announced she was off to Toorak to eat cheese. So, after a firm handshake, we both went our separate ways.
Happiness outcome: 5/10
This was my everest. I've always envied anyone who is able to throw caution to the wind and do whatever they want. I'm not so much introverted as someone who finds the entire prospect of being laughed at terrifying. So I did something I always wanted to try—stand up comedy.
Comedy is interesting. You're up there hoping that everyone will laugh at your jokes to give you a sense of validation. The sense of relief you get when you finish is amazing, especially compared to the existential dread before you perform. However, the audience at the open-mic night were families and middle-aged tradies, so they didn't understand my jokes about stealing groceries. I still got a few laughs though, thankfully.
On a side note, not everyone was satisfied with my performance. Pete, a fellow performer that night, felt my set needed a better rhythm to it and told me that reading off my phone removed some ambiance. Pete isn't a comedian but is a lifelong fan of the comedic arts so I took it on board. Thanks for the advice Pete. Sorry I missed your set.
Out of everything I did, this was the most satisfying. Accomplishing something you've always wanted to try is better than any other feeling. Oddly enough though, the satisfaction quickly faded. I found myself focused on how I could up the ante, or how I'd improve my routine for next time. That's life for ya.
Happiness outcome: 9/10
Who doesn't want to be more popular? It's that primal high school feeling: no matter how much you try and repress, you secretly obsess over popularity. When I think of my perfect self, he's that embodiment of extroversion and effortless likeability. The kind of guy who walks straight past the velvet rope. The kind of guy who is a VIP.
The Toff is a bar in Melbourne. Through the power of journalism, I managed to convince staff that both my article and I were very important, so they offered me a VIP experience.
Being treated like a VIP was beautiful. I got my own private booth, a free bottle of prosecco, and I was allowed to go anywhere in the building, including backstage to hang with bands. My photographer Alan and I were offered cheese platters, staff came up to see how we were doing, and—although no one actually came up to us—we both heard other patrons whispering to each other as they walked past.
For no reason at all, I felt I was better than everyone else. I was allowed to go where everyone wasn't, allowed to skip lines—and all because of literally nothing. Regardless, being treated special is pretty cool, and I want it more.
Happiness outcome: 7/10
So what did I learn?
I learned that living as your ideal self is fantastic for brief, intense periods, but mostly it's just stressful and underwhelming. I regularly found myself exhausted and partially satisfied afterwards, feeling like I could've done it better or could've done it more despite actually achieving what I set out to do.
And that's because chasing an ideal perfect self is both toxic and unachievable. The problem is that as your values change, so do your perceptions of your ideal self. With every accomplishment, I just felt like I should have been more.
So I've learned I shouldn't try to be perfect, but rather just try to accept my flaws. You're not going to get anywhere by beating yourself up wishing the grass was greener because honestly, it's just not that much greener.
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