Yes Man, You Bet!

Are you a couch potato who usually say 'no' when you're invited somewhere? What would happen if you suddenly got up from the couch and decided to say 'yes' to anything?

by Dean Hodgins - 11 August 2015

'Yes Man' book cover
Author: Danny Wallace
Publisher: Gallery Books
Paperback: 384 pages
Year: 2006

It would be difficult to argue that we don’t live in a world filled with countless possibilities and decisions that literally shape our experience and provide a basis for everything we experience. We are continually faced with yes-or-no choices and each choice we make is another path away from the road not taken; to borrow a line from Robert Frost. Every choice we make or don’t make is much like a door to the unknown which we can open or close as we choose and every decision we make determines our next set of choices like a stone cast into a lake and the resulting ripples that flow outward.

“Yes Man” is a book penned by Danny Wallace in 2005 that lets us share in the experience of a BBC freelance radio producer who decides to make a radical change to his decision making process which ultimately changes his life profoundly. The book is written from Danny’s perspective in a humorous and witty fashion. If you’re looking for deep prose or Hemingway-like fiction you’d be better looking at other literary offerings. But first a bit of background regarding the young protagonist who has an epiphany one day on a crowded red bus in the East End of London.

As a young man in his mid-twenties Danny, at one point, lived a life of adventure with his friends and girlfriend of three years in one of the world’s most exciting cities. He suspects his “downward spiral” as he describes it began in the autumn of the previous year when he was dumped by his girlfriend Hanne. The book is not at all about regrets or obsessions and in fact Danny admits that the end of his three year relationship caused him to take a long, hard look at his situation and wonder which direction he should go. In short order Danny finds himself with a mortgage, a pension and a shopper of items acquired at Habitat or IKEA. He learns how to iron, experiments with pastas and even buys a plant.

Eventually Danny develops a fondness for staying in; for tinkering, napping and channel hopping. He becomes adept at fending off any attempts by his friends to socialize and in his own words can spot an invitation coming a mile away. He stays home to watch television, send emails and texts to avoid friend’s birthdays and visits and he becomes the man who always says no; a master of white lies whose diary pages eventually become filled with nothing to remember. At one point he realizes that one of his most exciting moments in recent months was when he went to PC World to buy a new printer cartridge.

Danny does not appear to be at all distressed regarding his lack of sociability and in fact admits some comfort with his stay-at-home lifestyle. All of that all changes one day while riding the Central Line train to the east end of London. His realization on that London bus was not a result of any deep thinking or soul searching on his part and it seems that the inspiration that followed three unsolicited words from a bearded stranger was made more profound by the spontaneous nature of the exchange. Here’s a young man whose friends have all expressed concerns regarding Danny’s hermit-like existence of late. During the fateful bus ride he exchanges pleasantries with a stranger and recounts the events of the week which for Danny included staying in a lot and having early nights. The bearded stranger tells Danny that people without passion are always the ones that say no. Other words of wisdom included the observation that good things only happen to people when one allows them to. The final words of wisdom; the three words that ultimately change Danny’s destiny were a simple instruction to “Say yes more”.

After the stranger on the bus drops this philosophical bombshell Danny has his revelatory moment as he describes it. While later recounting his watershed moment to Ian; Danny’s best friend, Danny admits that deep down he probably wanted to make a big change in his lifestyle and his random conversation with a bearded stranger was the perfect catalyst to kick-start a new lifestyle based on three simple words: “say yes more”. By his own admission Danny had wasted half a year which was thrown away and swapped for toast and evenings in front of the telly.

Yes Man will never be viewed as a great work of literature and it’s unlikely that students will ever have this book assigned as required reading. The book’s style resembles light prose written in a humorous fashion and it’s certainly not the sort of book that one can’t put down. The book does however convey an extremely important message regarding our well-established lifestyle in the civilized world. Most of us, like Danny, routinely trade a world of possibilities for a comfortable night viewing our favorite television shows; a safe and comfortable existence where our real friends are replaced by fictional television characters; where adventure is traded for complacency and quiet contentment within our small flats and living spaces.

Danny realizes that in order to truly honor his new commitment to say yes more that he must say yes to absolutely everything. He understands that baring criminal actions he cannot allow himself any latitude regarding his acceptance of all possibilities that await him. He knows that if he allows himself to carefully evaluate and say no to any possibility then he’s really no further ahead than before. He views this revelation as a serious proposal to enrich his life with positivity and opportunity and decides initially that he will spend one day saying yes to anything; a day of being a “Yes Man”.

Most readers I’m sure will anticipate the bizarre scenarios that may arise from this daunting task. Danny’s first experience saying yes starts with a sales call to discuss the benefits of double glazed windows and young Mr. Wallace eagerly agrees to discuss double glazing even though he admits he already has these types of windows. From Danny Wallace’s perspective that does not matter. The important part of the exercise has to do with embracing new opportunities and enriching his life with encounters and experiences that were previously denied to him through his own choosing. Suddenly Danny’s life becomes governed by forces beyond his ability to refuse and in his words he needs to “go with the flow”.

Once Danny succeeds in saying yes to anything for a day he decides to “say yes more” for the rest of the year. After all what could possibly go wrong?

In the months that follow Danny gets a really bad haircut, meets the world’s only hypnotic dog, travels to Amsterdam and Singapore and wins and loses 25,000 pounds. He becomes a minister, an inventor and a television personality. While in a nightclub with his friend Wag he is caught looking at someone’s girlfriend and confronted by the aggrieved boyfriend who asks Danny if he was looking at his girlfriend. Naturally Danny says yes again at which point the offended bloke says to Danny, “Do I look like the sort of idiot who’d let you look at my girlfriend?” True to form the “Yes man” answers correctly and braces himself to get punched, smashed, cracked or bruised. Luckily he escapes with only a scathing insult. The Yes Man had stared death in the face and come away unscathed.

This experience leaves Danny even more determined to embrace life instead of just living. The reader is invited along with Danny as he deals with a whole lot of bizarre and always interesting situations. Danny is always optimistic and one of the book’s greatest virtues is allowing the reader to share in Danny’s enthusiasm, positivity and new zest for life. The book is about a young British bloke at a crossroads in life who embraces a new way of experiencing a world filled with possibility and adventure. Our adventures with Danny, his old friends and new friends is entertaining and warmly written and we are reminded that life’s choices are ultimately our dreams, hopes and inspiration in a world of infinite possibility.