Terence Blacker: The 10 keys to being happy and highly ineffective

Here is a thought which does not require diarising: I don't want to live like over-wound celebrity automatons.

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The Independent Online

It is a lusty, thrusting time of the year when people, full of vim and false hope, are making new career plans, leaving their spouses and generally flailing about in the hope that their lives will change when the sun starts to shine.

In response to this mood, achievers have been telling the press how they have become so successful and enviable. Organise, they say. Digitise. Upgrade. Emily Maitlis has revealed that she "moves incredibly quickly". Shami Chakrabarti "diarises thinking time". David Lammy likes to memorise key points of meetings while he jogs.

Here is a thought which does not require diarising: I don't want to live like over-wound celebrity automatons. There is another way through life, and it is the way of happiness. One must bring the same focus and dedication to the pursuit of non-success by following a few simple fundamentals:

A list is good for shopping but for nothing else. Alain de Botton, rather peculiarly, makes lists between three and four in the morning. Perhaps, as a form of self-therapy, the philosopher of the street should post one of his early morning lists on his website. However impressive it may be (1. Tweet aphorisms on work, marriage, airports etc; 2. Pitch the Sartre for Self-Esteem idea; 3. Resolve the consciousness conundrum), he would soon see that he was turning his life into a series of chores. Even if he completes the tasks he has set himself, he will draw up another list.

Networking is for the socially inadequate. "I need to speak people," says Richard Branson, as if scurrying around, making contact with ordinary people, is somehow the way to a fuller life. To achieve non-success, you should never fret about making contacts, or impressing influential people. If you happen to see Branson heading your way, eager to do his speaking thing, pretend that you think he is Noel Edmunds. That always works.

Going to bed with someone more successful than yourself is rarely worth the effort. The list-making, the digitising, the memorising of meetings while going for a jog: you can be infected with these dysfunctional activities over the breakfast table. One moment, you are a contented non-success, the next you are one half of a power couple, like Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. It is just not worth it.

A call from a telephone salesperson is a conversational opportunity. They are people, too, you know. Hanging up on someone who just happens to want to discuss your need for solar panelling or a new internet server is not only rude, but it reveals your innate lack of curiosity in the outside world. Last week, I was asked by someone from a call-centre on the Indian sub-continent, whether I was the man of the house. It was a question I have asked myself several times, and I was sharing with him my thoughts on the new masculinism and concepts of authority when unfortunately we were cut off.

Discovering what people like is fine, so long as you never supply it. The world is full of shiny pleasers. Your role as a non-success is to buck the trend. Just when people know what kind of work to expect from you, give them something different. You'll soon be slithering down the greasy pole at a heady, dizzying speed.

Self-improvement manuals, particularly when written by Americans, are always a waste of time. A smart-arse semi-academic from New York appears with another neat theory of success and happiness which, weirdly, he seems to assume belong together. Reading his book will make you more anxious, not less. Read the great authors of non-success (George Gissing, Katherine Mansfield, Philip Larkin, Frederick Exley) instead.

Meetings are a forum for show-offs. When attending a meeting, say as little as possible. Do not check emails or make Bottonian lists, but think about the book you are reading, or perhaps what you would like to have for dinner that evening. If someone addresses you, make a big show of having been in another world, shaking your head and blinking in a bewildered way.

Dullness is the most effective human shield. You are an original person, full of interesting ideas and insights. Why waste those talents in the pointless pursuit of achievement? Keep them for the non-successful people who are closest to you or, best of all, for yourself.

A party full of successful, list-making people is always worth avoiding. Those who are on the treadmill of ambition and advancement rarely make good company, and work hard to make you feel worse about yourself by droning on about their own silly, fretful lives. If you are planning a social occasion, remove the top five achievers from the guest-list, and you will find that everyone has a better time.

Learning the piano late in life is not the innocent pursuit it may appear. Both Alan Rusbridger and Ed Balls swear by their morning music practice. Did their personalities lead them to the piano, or has plonking away at the Moonlight Sonata somehow turned them into Rusbridger/Balls? Either way, it is not worth the risk.