1,001 golf holes

Now that I'm the wrong side of 30, my thoughts naturally turn to death on a regular basis. My life expectancy is around 75, but because I'm a pessimist, I expect to go somewhere around 65, which means we're getting on for halfway through; if this were a play, the ice-cream sellers would be starting to cluster around the exits. And, as if to pile on the pressure, the world has started to besiege me with reminders of my scant achievements to date.

A stroll through a bookshop reveals an astonishing range of volumes dedicated to my race against mortality. Amazing Places to See Before You Die, Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (1,001 of each, intimidatingly - I'm going to have to put several records on at once) and Unforgettable Things to Do Before You Die, including bungee-jumping and seeing the northern lights, both of which are going to be complicated and expensive. There is even 1,001 Golf Holes You Must Play Before You Die, which came as a shock because I wasn't aware that even one round of golf was required.

All in all, the people who compile these things have set me enough homework to keep me busy well beyond the rest of my years. At any given time from now on, you can expect to see me sporting a pair of headphones with pop in one ear and classical in the other, clutching a set of golf clubs while leaping from a plane into the Victoria Falls.

Does it really matter if we cram every living moment with activity? Are we really the richer if we measure our lifespan, as the optimistic axiom goes, by the number of times our heart stops, rather than the time until it stops for good? (If so, the best-off people are presumably the ones who've gone into cardiac arrest and been saved.) Will we, on our deathbeds, register the final thought: "I haven't even seen the Thomson's gazelle in its natural habitat"?

My guess is that we won't. It's a strange thing that in this time of historically unprecedented health, comfort and lifespan, we are all trying to psych each other out with these mortal to-do lists, but in the end, lists are all they are. I for one would rather pass the final years of my life surrounded by loved ones than blitz my way through The Brothers Karamazov on horseback just so I can tick a few more boxes on the list.

Yes, the world is chock-full of opportunity - bafflingly so - and it's a shame to miss out by being lazy or ill-informed. But the real adventure comes from stumbling upon unexpected joys, rather than working through them on a spreadsheet. Those "deathbed moments" are to be found by striking out in the direction of the unknown, not tackling life like a series of assignments. Or maybe I'm just telling myself that because I'm off the pace by about 990 pieces of classical music and 1,001 golf holes. I've bought the books just in case. Anyway, no time to waste. I tee off in Augusta in nine hours.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 19 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The big choice