How to Be Content With Life: 4 Tips From Steven Bartlett

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Happy Sexy Millionaire" by Steven Bartlett. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Want to know how to be content with life? How can you achieve a consistent feeling of contentment?

According to Steven Bartlett, many of us seek pleasure or happiness in life, but those feelings are short-lived. It’s important to learn how to be content with life to experience long-term satisfaction with what you already have, he says.

Read on to learn Bartlett’s four tips for how to be content with life.

Being More Content With Life

In Happy Sexy Millionaire, Steven Bartlett calls out the myth that you can find happiness, love, and wealth if you just follow three simple steps and a hack or two. Bartlett says the internet, social media, and algorithms have dazzled us into believing that we can have the perfect life if we just chase the “right” dreams—a lie that pulls us off the path of genuine contentment, meaning, and fulfillment. To learn how to be content with life, he says it’s important to find true meaning in the goals you pursue.

Bartlett, a social media mogul and public speaker, was born in Botswana to a Nigerian mother and British father and raised in a predominantly white area in England. A university dropout, once so poor that he scavenged for food, Bartlett founded the successful internet company Social Chain at age 21 and was by all objective accounts “living the dream.” But when wealth and fame didn’t bring him happiness, Bartlett reevaluated his priorities. He wrote Happy Sexy Millionaire to warn against chasing false idols and encourage others to find contentment and success by being themselves and doing what has meaning to them.

#1: Take Responsibility

Bartlett asserts that you’ll feel more content with life and experience greater success when you take control of your emotions, accept responsibility for problems you face, and acknowledge your weaknesses and failures. He says that the more control you feel you have in life, the more confident you are in your ability to navigate the challenges you face, and the more content, healthy, and independent you feel. 

In contrast, people who blame and get angry at others for their problems are unnecessary hostages to their emotions and factors that they think are outside of their control but, often, are not. The less control you feel you have in life, the more unhappy, helpless, and victimized you feel, because it seems as if outcomes are the luck of the draw and you unfairly drew the short straw. 

Principle illustrated: Bartlett says he had an employee who continually complained to him about a client who regularly failed to pay his bills on time. When he reviewed this employee’s process for collecting payments, however, Bartlett discovered that he hadn’t posted due dates on his invoices. They reformatted the invoices together to include a due date, and three months later his employee reported that the client hadn’t paid late since. By jumping to the conclusion that the client was to blame, Bartlett’s employee gave up control of the situation. When he stopped pointing his finger and looked at his own practices, he took back control over the situation. 

Refuse to Be a Victim

In The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone says that people who blame others (half the population) are unsuccessful because they’re whiners and victims who are so busy making excuses that they can’t take action. He says that victims give their control to others and feel powerless to change anything, so never feel in control or confident in themselves.

Cardone says you can’t control everything, but you can control how you respond to things—and claiming control will allow you to act and improve your situation.Cardone says you can take control and responsibility in your life by thinking about ways to minimize and prevent problems from recurring—which will help you avoid getting sucked into victim thinking. For example, if someone rear-ends your car you have a valid reason to be upset, but avoiding the victim role is more important than venting. So you should focus on figuring out how to avoid being rear-ended again. For example, take a less heavily trafficked route next time, leave yourself more time to get to your destination, and make sure you’re paying attention while you’re driving.

#2: Protect Your Time 

Bartlett argues that to learn how to be more content with life, you have to pay attention to how little time you have on earth, know your dreams and goals, and devote as much of your time and energy as possible to achieving them. He asserts that time is the most precious resource that exists—it’s the key to your well-being because it gives you the freedom to invest in things that matter to you. 

Only you can control your time, and you should factor that reality into every decision you make and every action you take, because every choice either pushes you toward or away from your goals. Bartlett says you should make every decision with the urgency you’d have if a timer was constantly in front of your face and you were watching the remaining minutes of your life on earth tick away. 

(Shorform note: Unlike Bartlett, many experts contend that fulfillment comes when you practice mindfulness, the benefits of which include greater feelings of self control, improved mental clarity, and an increased ability to relate to yourself and others with kindness, acceptance, and compassion.) 

Bartlett says that even as he wrote his book, competing interests like wanting to watch football or go to McDonald’s to get a Big Mac flooded his head, but he ignored both because taking time to do those things would mean he’d have less time to pursue the bigger goal that’s part of the legacy he wants to leave behind—writing the book.

(Shortform note: The value of time differs from one culture to another. For example, in America, a production-oriented society, time is money—a scarce resource—so efficiency is valued. In contrast, people from Spain and Italy are more concerned with the present moment than schedules and punctuality. And Japanese culture is focused less on how long things take and more on divvying up time in ways that adhere to priorities such as properness, courtesy and tradition.)

#3: Make Decisions Rationally, Not Emotionally 

Bartlett argues that you should make difficult decisions and react to crises from a place of calm analysis, not panic. Responding to challenging situations from a clear, rational headspace will help you to feel more content with life in the long run than if you react from a place of instability, which will only fuel more instability and unhappiness. He says that the only thing you control in the heat of challenging moments is how you react to them, not how they arose or what their outcomes will be, so you shouldn’t waste time getting distracted by your emotions or how you feel about the situation.

(Shortform note: To respond to crises from a place of calm, not panic, you can try a strategy from Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now to disconnect from your emotions: Use cues from your body, like clenched fists or a tight jaw, to notice anger you may feel, then observe the thoughts at the root of that anger. The mere act of observing your emotion from a detached place, rather than simply being absorbed by feeling it, separates you from it.)     

When you have to make a difficult decision and feel yourself reacting emotionally, Bartlett says you should stop, take a breath, check in with friends to process the situation, then take the time you need to make your decision from a place of calm. If you find yourself in a crisis, you’ll have less time to process information, so you should:   

  • Accept that you’re dealing with a bad situation.
  • Quickly take action so you don’t drown in a state of uncertainty about why it’s happening or what might come next. 
  • Stay calm and positive, proactively gather information, and assemble a plan to address the issue at hand.  
  • Remind yourself that you’ve successfully navigated difficult situations in your life before and will do so again this time.

Principle illustrated: In 2015, as Bartlett drove to a company paintball retreat in the countryside, he learned that his company’s email had been hacked and a slew of offensive emails had gone out to his top clients. Calls canceling contracts poured in. Despite the natural inclination to panic, Bartlett says he remained calm and went into problem-solving mode to secure his compromised server. When he arrived at the retreat, he stepped out of his car, and in a confident, unemotional tone informed his employees that he needed them to join him back at the office to address the problem at hand. 

Bartlett says that in the days that followed, his company lost 80 percent of their clients—but he never caved to despair, pessimism, or chaos, because that only feeds problems. He says that staying calm and being proactive, optimistic, and focused helped elevate his employees’ spirits. As a result, they regrouped, bounced back, and not long after signed a multi-million-pound deal that secured the company’s future for many years. Had Bartlett given into panic, the company likely wouldn’t have survived and succeeded.

(Shortform note: Psychologists agree with Barlett’s assessment that when you’re in crisis, you should accept your circumstances and act rationally and quickly. They further assert that typical human reaction to a crisis is to enter a state of fear, negativity, and panic that’s tied to hardwired survival instincts. This can be unhelpful because today’s dangers differ from the simple and immediate threats of primitive times—like wild animals chasing you. To counter your fear, negativity, and panic try confronting them by embracing an “opportunity psychology”: Stay positive and forward thinking, be open to all solutions, keep moving forward no matter what, and, if you’re leading a team, be optimistic, decisive, and calm.) 

#4: Practice Gratitude 

Bartlett says you can improve your health and well-being, which can make you feel more content with life, by regularly practicing gratitude. He cites psychologist Martin Seligman, asserting that noticing positive things throughout the day makes you feel like you’re getting gifts all day long. In addition, research finds that practicing gratitude regularly releases the feel-good hormone dopamine and can counter the negative effects of anxiety. 

Bartlett says that we often forget to express gratitude because we’re more focused on feeling like we’re not good enough (or not doing well enough) in relation to other people. However, for gratitude to become integrated into your life and improve your well-being, you must make a conscious effort to practice regularly. 

Bartlett recommends journaling about your gratitude on a daily basis. He journals twice a day—just before bed and when he wakes up. He writes down things he appreciates, like his dog or his niece. He says that engaging in the practice makes him realize how special specific things in his life are, and that the process as a whole has made him more optimistic. 

(Shortform note: Psychologists back Bartlett’s argument that regularly practicing gratitude improves your health and well-being, saying cultivating positive emotions on a regular basis “rewires” your brain by growing new connections that facilitate your ability to tap into these emotions in the future. So the process of swapping out negative emotions, such as anger or sadness, for positive ones, such as awe or gratitude, becomes easier and quicker the more you do it.)  

How to Be Content With Life: 4 Tips From Steven Bartlett

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  • Why wealth and fame won't always bring you happiness
  • Why you shouldn't follow steps and hacks to find happiness
  • The best practices for pursuing happiness and success

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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