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Are you living life to the full?

Are you living life to the full?

Newspapers last week were full of a new list of 50 things we should do in order to live a full life. But how useful are these lists? Do they really spur us on to make the most of our lives, or are they just another way of making us feel vaguely inadequate and lacking?

Another week, another poll. To mark the DVD release of “Life of Pi” British researchers recently conducted an extensive survery of over 2000 people in order to compile a list of 50 things that are essential to having lived a full life. Refreshingly, most of the list consists of experiences and achievements rather than the accumulation of material possessions. A lot of it is about living an active, engaged life. But are these sorts of lists really a constructive way of evaluating our lives?

The list in full

1. Stop worrying about money

2. Stop worrying about what other people think

3. Take two holidays a year

4. Enjoy little comforts in life

5. Experience different cultures

6. Work to live rather than live to work

7. Pay off all debts

8. Be true to yourself

9. Concentrate on what you have instead of what you don’t have

10.Use money on experiences rather than saving for a rainy day

11. Make time for family and friends

12. Try all types of food

13. Find true love

14. Travel to at least 25 different foreign countries

15. Go outside more

16. Learn a new language

17. Be well thought of by family and friends

18. Help a member of your family out when they really need it

19. Lose a stone in weight

20. Treat each day like it’s your last

21. Visit all of Britain’s historical landmarks

22. Book an impulsive last minute holiday

23. Volunteer for a good cause

24. Take up a challenge

25. Go on safari

26. Blow a load of money in one shopping trip, just because you can

27. Learn a new instrument

28. Be married for longer than 20 years

29. Have enough money left for the grandchildren to enjoy

30. Start a family

31. Earn more than your age

32. Have a pet

33. Drive a really fast car

34. Travel alone

35. Be able to keep the kids on the straight and narrow

36. Meet strangers

37. Move away from home to an unfamiliar place

38. Have a one night stand

39. Pass your driving test

40. Get a degree

41. Rescue someone so that you’re a hero for a little while

42. Date someone exciting but completely wrong for you

43. Get a promotion

44. Reach the desired career peak by age 40

45. Have an all-night drinking session

46. Perform something on stage in front of others

47. Snog a stranger

48. Plan a surprise party

49. Embark on adrenaline packed activities such as sky diving or bungee jumping

50. Spend time with children even if they aren’t yours

What's your score?

So how did you do?

Chances are, your life does not tick all 50 items. No reason to despair, we are told. Only 23% of those questioned believed they were already living life to the full. And the average person is able to tick off only 8 items out of the 50.

Now what?

What's the next step? Do we look at the (average) 42 items we couldn't tick off the list and start working our way down? Or just sigh wearily and wish our lives were different?

Now, I don't want to be a killjoy. This list was the result of a piece of research designed to promote a film. It's a bit of fun, right? Nothing to stress about. Something to chat about to colleagues over lunch as you compare your scores. Where's the harm in that?

Well, there is harm. Let's ignore, for a moment, the middle class, First World arrogance of a list that includes travel to 25 countries as an “eesential” for living a full life. Let's even suspend any kind of moral judgment and accept that all-night drinking sessions and one-night stands somehow enhance the quality of one's life. We are still left with the core idea that living life to the full is something that can be done by ticking things off a list.

I have a huge problem with this whole idea, and my discomfort comes from two angles: First of all, such lists reduce the whole experience of life to quantity rather than quality. In the 1980's it was all about acquiring new stuff, now it's all about acquiring new experiences. It's still a very shallow, shopping-list type of approach. Who cares if you've been to 25 countries, speak 3 languages and have tried every major cuisine available? You can travel without engaging with your fellow human beings. You can be fluent in several languages without being able to listen properly. And you can eat all manner of exotic foods without really tasting or savouring anything. So that's the first angle: I think a full life comes from finding richness in your experiences, whatever form they take. If you can really engage with the most mundane and trivial parts of everyday life, it will be a full life.

The second angle of my discomfort is the competitive element inherent in such lists. They're a standard by which to judge your life, find it wanting, and... What? Seek out the next experience? Polish up your Facebook profile to give an even more unrealistic version of your life? What can you possibly gain from evaluating your life against somebody else's list of “essentials”?!

I can only conclude that I'm in a minority with this stance, given the proliferation of these sorts of lists. They seem to be everywhere: Even the National Trust now has a list of “50 things to do before you're 11 ¾.” It's clearly a very popular phenomenon. I can understand the counter argument that says it's only a bit of harmless fun, and I accept that I may be over-thinking things.

But you see, over-thinking things is at the top of my own, idiosyncratic, deeply personal list of features that make up a full life. And perhaps that's where the answer lies. If you must have a list, at least make up your own one.