There I was at ten to eight on a Tuesday morning, trapped on the top deck of the 171, sandwiched between a guy blasting a 96kbps YouTube rip of that Duke Dumont track while sipping a can of Euroshopper energy drink. I was on my way to spend another day in a windowless basement, selling Twixes and coconut water to exchange students whose parents are far richer than I'll ever be. Watching the buses trundle and honk through Elephant and Castle, past parades of charity shops and Lycamobile shacks, I realised I'd been staring into space like an extra in a Dido video for 20 minutes. It was at that point I wondered if I'd experience happiness ever again.
Then I stumbled across a survey – commissioned, weirdly, to coincide with the DVD release of The Life of Pi – that had asked over "2,000 adults aged 18 to 65 to compile the list of 50 essentials for a fulfilled life". Surely this would cheer me up – their crowd-sourced advice filling me with feelings of positivity and hope. If I could just follow their 50 steps to happiness, my problems would vanish like dissolvable Citalopram and all would be right with the world.
Then I read it. Turns out the sort of people who buy The Life of Pi on Blu-Ray are incredibly optimistic or completely full of shit. (Probably both.) I decided to take notes on the 50 steps of happiness that had been recommended to me to see if they were at all feasible (although I only did it with 25, because 50 is a lot and I'm a half-arsed kinda guy). Could a man whose happiest moments come when You've Been Framed is on take these guys' advice and change his life for the better?
I guess we'll have to see.
STEP ONE – STOP WORRYING ABOUT MONEY
As a recent graduate who fled office life after a fortnight to return to the comforting hum of the post-grad computer room, money is the single biggest worry in my life. It plagues me. It haunts me. I feel physically sick drawing a tenner from the cash point and I sneak cans of own brand lager into Wetherspoons. It's as likely that I'll stop worrying about money as it is that I'll actually go to the Citizens Advice Bureau to confront my debt problems rather than endlessly running away from them.
CAN I DO THIS? No.
STEP TWO – TAKE TWO HOLIDAYS A YEAR
Maybe if those £9.99 holiday deals were still running in the back pages of the Sun. If not, the closest I'll get is watching a Club Reps marathon in my hangover pants while puking a pint of Glen's into my goldfish bowl. In my house, goldfish don't last long.
CAN I DO THIS? No.
STEP THREE – ENJOY LITTLE COMFORTS IN LIFE
Essentially, there are no great comforts, no real revelations of sheer joy and pleasure that reform your character and alter your life. Embrace this. Embrace the satisfaction that comes with finding a Taste the Difference tiramisu in the reduced section. Embrace the joy of seeing someone you've always hated post jokes about Made in Chelsea on Facebook that no one Likes. Embrace knowing that, however unhappy you might feel, you'll never be Paul Danan.
CAN I DO THIS? Yes. It's one of the few things in life I relied on to make me happy even before I read this list.
STEP FOUR – WORK TO LIVE RATHER THAN LIVE TO WORK
Nice idea, though a little impractical. You know how it goes; you work all day, you get home, all you want to do is crack open a cold as fuck Grolsch and heckle adverts on TV with your mates. And if that ain't livin', baby I don't know what is.
CAN I DO THIS? No.
STEP FIVE – PAY OFF ALL DEBTS
Oh yeah, why didn't I think of that? I should just pay off all my debts and then I wouldn't have any debts to worry about. The only issue with that is that I've only managed to pay off a tenner of my student loan in the two years since I graduated. So unless Channel 4 find a secret millionaire looking to sponsor a post-grad male in his early twenties with a quickly diminishing stack of life prospects, I've still got a little way to go.
CAN I DO THIS? Unlikely.
STEP SIX – BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
What if I'm truly a self-hating, self-loathing, self-sabotaging sadsack whose inner "truth" is that he wants to wallow in bed all day huffing the remnant Wotsits crumbs off his fingers while flitting between rotten.com, PornHub and Comment is Free? Can I still be both true to myself and be happy? I hope so.
CAN I DO THIS? Yeah, though in fairness so could someone on a life support machine.
STEP SEVEN – CONCENTRATE ON WHAT YOU HAVE INSTEAD OF WHAT YOU DON'T HAVE
Sound, sensible advice, this. Although I'm always unsure if doing this ever brings about actual happiness, or if just make me resent my perpetually broken BlackBerry, my permanently wet towel, my collection of graphic print Topman boxers that all have holes in the "gusset" because I bought them six years ago and the copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves I found on the street even more than I already do.
CAN I DO THIS? Just about.
STEP EIGHT – BOOK AN IMPULSIVE LAST-MINUTE HOLIDAY
Having been dumped in my first year at uni, I did the sensible thing and went to Barcelona on a whim with the girl who dumped me. I had a great time – apart from having my wrist broken by riot police for urinating against a door in the middle of a riot – so I can thoroughly recommend this one. Fuck it, live a little.
CAN I DO THIS? Been there, done that, got the X-ray print-out.
STEP NINE – FIND TRUE LOVE
It's generous of the survey respondents to slip in the odd easily-attainable task. I mean, it's not like the need to fill the yawning chasm in our meaningless lives with that Special Someone has driven mankind mad forever, has it?
CAN I DO THIS? Can anyone? Get used to living a life as lonely as Van Gogh's severed earlobe.
STEP TEN – TRAVEL TO AT LEAST 25 DIFFERENT FOREIGN COUNTRIES
Quite a challenging one this, requiring as it does both vast sums of cash and a rudimentary grasp of geography (no one wants to end up in Venice, Utah when they're shooting for Venice, Italy). Tbh, though, outside of Disneyworld and Ibiza, I can't think of anywhere else I'm that bothered about visiting. The rest of it just looks like rocks and sand.
CAN I DO THIS? No.
STEP 11 – GO OUTSIDE MORE
Yeah, this is a genuinely effective way of feeling less down about life. Wake up, shower, go on Google Maps, find a spot that's exactly five miles from your house, walk there, stop off for a Mars bar and a Fanta, find a bus stop, get the bus home, tell your housemates about how the walk "cleared your mind", feel smug, make big plans to do it every weekend/free day you have, walk the same route once more three months later when you're on a comedown, never do it again.
CAN I DO THIS? Yes, but it's pointless.
STEP 12 – VISIT ALL OF BRITAIN'S HISTORICAL LANDMARKS
What? An arduous, expensive, endless shuffle around stately homes, stopping off between ornate lounges to gawp at Anglo-Saxon flintheads in museums manned by blokes who could pass for lookalikes of the guy in the hat from Time Team? Those who voted for this presumably had a lot of time on their hands. Sounds like a TV programme presented by Paddy McGuinness or Julian Clary, in reality is probably somehow even worse.
CAN I DO THIS? Categorically no.
STEP 13 – TRY ALL TYPES OF FOOD
Well, there's only really fish and chips, curry, noodles, burgers and pizza, isn't there? So yeah, I've tried all of those and I like all of those. The only thing I wouldn't recommend is burger noodles. No matter how broke you are, even if the only other things in your cupboard are a packet of crisps and an egg, never resort to burger noodles, even if the packaging says the burgers you have are "steak burgers". It won't taste of steak, it'll just make everything taste of burgers. The bean sprouts? Tastes of burgers. The pak choi? Tastes of burgers. The cabbage leaves? Tastes of burgers. These things occur naturally in the wild, making them taste like reconstituted bits of animal is an aberration against nature. Don't eat burger noodles.
CAN I DO THIS? Yes.
STEP 14 – BLOW A LOAD OF MONEY IN ONE SHOPPING TRIP, JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN
Sometimes I look at Juicy J's Instagram page and think, 'Fuck, I wish I had that much money just physically laying around everywhere. Think of all the 12-inch Balearic edits I could buy! All those collections of contemporary literary criticism that would line my bookshelves! I could treat myself to some value chicken breasts rather than surviving off dry jacket potatoes every meal of the month!'
And then I remember that the only times in my life when I've had more than £40 in cash on me came on birthdays. And even then I'd go into Norwich with my mum to spend it and end up paralysed by buyer's choice, coming home with a Brendan Benson album and a Metal Slug game that I'd make my mum play with me. Although, on a strong payday, I allow myself to dream of a trolley-dash around Ryman's. You gotta think big.
CAN I DO THIS? I'm just glad to be repeatedly reminded of my penury at this point.
STEP 15 – LEARN A NEW INSTRUMENT
In my childhood bedroom sit three guitars that share 14 strings between them. I can play roughly three chords and the bassline to "So Fresh, So Clean" by Outkast, as well as the lead guitar line of The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry". I learned all that when I was 13 and never progressed any further. I then watched the instrument-toting badboys at sixth form swan off with gaggles of girls in their Fiestas to gigs in the backrooms of rural pubs. Fuck that and fuck them.
CAN I DO THIS? Probably, but it's far easier to live vicariously through people you know who are in bands. Who knows, they might even let you "do merch". And then you can steal their money.
STEP 16 – START A FAMILY
I'll occasionally catch myself day-dreaming about having a wife, kids, a nanny, a dog – other living entities to share my life with. Then I'm snapped out of it by the milk pouring onto the socks I've had on for three days straight because I have DROWNED MY FUCKING WEETABIX DINNER AGAIN and commence weeping uncontrollably for their souls.
CAN I DO THIS? Not quite yet.
STEP 17 – HAVE A PET
Animals are shit. They smell, they molt, they can't talk and you have to walk them. A waste of time, effort and money, IMO. That said, shouts to any dude who got a kitten while they were at uni so they could take loads of Photobooth shots of them cradling said kitten while wearing a Descendents T-shirt. Hey, you got a handjob from the seapunk girl on your art history course out of it, so living amid the stench of discarded Felix pouches and spending your beer money on worming tablets every week was worth it, right buddy?
CAN I DO THIS? Fuck that.
STEP 18 – DRIVE A REALLY FAST CAR
How fast is "really fast"? Where are we driving? Can we afford the petrol? Do higher speeds use more petrol and thus cost more money? Are you insured on one of these? Can we stop off at the Brewer's Fayre in a bit?
CAN I DO THIS? See below.
STEP 19 – PASS YOUR DRIVING TEST
Move to a real city guys, we've got this thing called a public transport service.
CAN I DO THIS? No.
STEP 20 – GET A DEGREE
MATE, I'VE VERY NEARLY GOT TWO AND I'M NOT HAPPY AT ALL.
CAN I DO THIS? Yes.
STEP 21 – RESCUE SOMEONE SO THAT YOU'RE A HERO FOR A WHILE
True story: In year seven, my school went on a trip to Hadrian's Wall. One afternoon, while tramping around the borderlands being abused by Scottish schoolchildren, we began to descend a steepish, sharpish hill. My best friend began to fall. I could see it all happening in slow motion. He was going to smash his face on a jagged hunk of flint. I jumped headfirst, grabbed his trainer and yanked him back. I saved his life. I was that hero. It felt great and made up for the time I did a "falcon kick" from Super Smash Bros on him in the playground and nearly broke his nose.
CAN I DO THIS? Well, I'm still dining out on the anecdote 12 years on. So I could maybe do it again.
STEP 22 – DATE SOMEONE EXCITING BUT COMPLETELY WRONG FOR YOU
Does the initial thrill outweigh the long lasting psychological damage? These guys think so. Just remember, though: there's a reason why you don't normally go out with girls who look like Rossy de Palma and are aggressively into happy hardcore and Chuck Palahniuk.
CAN I DO THIS? I mean, I could. But it would probably be unwise to do so. So I'm not going to.
STEP 23 – REACH YOUR DESIRED CAREER PEAK BY THE AGE OF 40
I have a BA in Creative Writing and an MA in American Literature. I have no career ahead of me, let alone a peak.
CAN I DO THIS? Lord no.
STEP 24 – HAVE AN ALL-NIGHT DRINKING SESSION
Strange one, this, because I'm not sure what's fulfilling about drinking all night. It's too situational: Have these people spent all night sipping cocktails on a rooftop in Manhattan, lazily drawing on Davidoff Gold Slims as the sun comes up, planning a quick dip in the pool before breakfasting in bed, sozzled and happy? Or are they more into sitting up after a shit night at a shit club, slamming down blue bag after black bag of Oranjebooms and chain-smoking ashtray rollies while trawling YouTube for people pranking their head teachers?
CAN I DO THIS? The former: No. The latter: Yes.
STEP 25 – EMBARK ON ADRENALINE PACKED ACTIVITIES SUCH AS SKY DIVING OR BUNGEE JUMPING
Oh, fuck that noise. Life's already exciting enough without the need for this kind of artificial "thrill-seeking" bullshit. Who knows what'll come through the letterbox each morning? Who knows how long you'll have to wait in the queue at McDonald's to redeem the vouchers you've kept stuffed in your back pocket since you tore them out of the paper last week? Who knows how many people you'll see on the high street that make you want to kill?
CAN I DO THIS? Nah, going to ASDA on a Saturday is my version of zorbing.
Reading and reflecting on the list taught me a few things. Firstly, and it's an obvious one, money is pivotal. Yeah, we all know money doesn't make you happy. Then again, we also all know that eating yesterday's pizza in your pants while watching your housemate play Tony Hawk's doesn't necessarily make you happy either, but that doesn't seem to stop anyone (me).
That nearly every thing on the list was either out of my budget or a flagrant waste of money was, in its own strange way, quite liberating. I realised that I'm actually happier with my lot than I thought. Why do you need to go on a safari when you've got uTorrent and The Big Book of Football's Funniest Quotes waiting for you at home?
Secondly, the things that required no cash were, by and large, symbols of a universal mawkish, sentimental sensibility that repel more than they attract. That said, I can sympathise with wanting to embrace something other than the shitty world you're stuck in. I'm still not going LARPing at Stonehenge, though.
All photos by Bruno Bayley.
Follow Josh on Twitter: @bain3z
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