How Meaningful Goals Make You Happier

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.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Why are meaningful goals important? How can you set meaningful goals?

According to Steven Bartlett, setting meaningful goals will bring you more success, contentment, and even love in life. In Happy Sexy Millionaire, Bartlett says that, to feel content, successful, and loved, you have to find what’s meaningful to you.

Read on to learn more about why meaningful goals bring more happiness, according to Bartlett.

Strive for Meaningful Goals

Author and social media mogul Steven Bartlett says you should ignore the external brainwashing that comes from social media and television and instead turn inward to figure out what’s meaningful to you. He argues that striving to achieve your own meaningful goals brings a sense of calm and contentment, even though pursuing your dreams inevitably comes with failure and rejection. In contrast, achieving the goals society says you should—like getting rich and famous—makes you feel lost and chaotic. This is because once you achieve society’s goals, you have nothing left to strive for and the achievement doesn’t have deep meaning. 

Bartlett recommends that you identify your goals by thinking about the one thing in life you want and value above all else—the thing you’d sacrifice everything for. Ask yourself why this is important to you. Once you know what it is and why it’s crucial to your happiness, every decision you make should drive you toward that one meaningful goal. If you don’t, you’ll get distracted, lose energy and focus, and diminish your chances of achieving your dream and ultimately finding fulfillment.

(Shortform note: In First Things First, Steven R. Covey bolsters Bartlett’s argument that striving to achieve meaningful goals gives you a greater sense of contentment. He argues that your goals must nurture balance in your life or you risk ultimately becoming disillusioned and wary of the goal-setting process. This is because when you achieve a goal that doesn’t include things that are actually important—like time with your family and friends, and a quality of life that comes with an even work-life balance—you’re confronted with the stark, negative reality of what you sacrificed to get there.)

Bartlett’s Revelation About Life Goals

At age 18, Bartlett was a poor university dropout whose mother had disowned him for leaving school. He journaled that his big life goals were to be a tech millionaire by age 25, own a Range Rover, have a long-term relationship, and have a better body. He says he thought that being a “sexy millionaire” would make him happy. 

But at the pinnacle of Bartlett’s career—when he headed a public company worth $200 million, frequently traveled the world, and lived in luxury—Bartlett realized that he felt no happier than he had when he had nothing. Bartlett describes this realization as a rug being pulled out from under him. He’d fallen victim to warped media narratives and social media falsehoods. He’d believed their lies that if he just worked hard enough and achieved a specific set of goals, happiness was his to keep. It was only after he found this external “success” that he discovered happiness comes from within. 

(Shortform note: Bartlett says that you’ll find happiness when you pursue meaningful goals. Some experts argue that rather than focusing on finding happiness, people should focus on being kind toward others, which will naturally bring happiness. They argue that kindness fuels the feel-good brain chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, which you’ll feel when you engage in selfless acts, such as bringing a meal to a friend who’s grieving or picking up groceries for a housebound, elderly person.)

Know Your Motivations

To feel fulfilled and find success, it’s not enough to know what you’re pursuing, you must also understand why you’re pursuing your goals. Bartlett says we’re not as attuned as we should be to this question of “Why?” because internet and social media algorithms have distorted our understanding of what should motivate us. They’ve done this by bombarding us with—and selling as the “ideal dream”—images of influencers as amazing people leading extraordinary lives. This effectively normalizes the flawed idea that to be happy, we have to do whatever it takes to be just like them. 

For example, Instagram’s algorithm will, by design, show your content to more people if it  fits into one of the app’s predetermined popular categories. As a result, a photo of a woman in a swimsuit will be shown to more users than a picture of you examining a mushroom. How this tricks you is that if you post both of these photos, one will get considerably more likes than the other, which warps your perspective of what other people find pleasing or acceptable.  

(Shortform note: Bartlett’s concerns about the internet, social media, and algorithms brainwashing us are bolstered by the bill of goods we’ve been sold by influencers who fake their success. There are documented cases of influencers faking private jet rides and posing in local mansions while pretending they are on exotic and expensive vacations. Some argue that all you need to be a social media influencer is a credit card—that, and several thousand bot followers.)

Bartlett says that truly successful people—those who experience consistent contentment—are motivated by internal factors and doing things that they genuinely enjoy. This is because you feel most fulfilled when you genuinely care about the dream you’re chasing and feel you have control over the way you pursue it. He cites research that finds that: 

  • People who pursue things that bring them authentic joy experience more lasting contentment than those who chase things that don’t. 
  • People lose interest in activities they love when they’re provided financial incentives to do them—because the incentive negatively alters their motivation to do the thing they love.

(Shortform note: Some experts say that following your internal passions can put you on a path to success—but only if you have the right expectations. For example, many people assume that when you’re passionate about something, the chips will miraculously fall into place and lead you to instant fame and fortune. But a more realistic view is that passion teaches you resilience by helping you slog through difficult times on what’s often a long, bumpy road to success.) 

In contrast, Bartlett argues that people who are motivated by external factors—like wanting money or avoiding negative consequences—typically feel unfulfilled and are unsuccessful as a result. He says that when you pursue goals that aren’t meaningful, you risk becoming disengaged and stagnating, or burning out, because you’re wasting time doing things you don’t really care about. He says the less true you are to yourself and the more you ignore what truly matters to you, the more unmotivated, unhappy, and regretful you ultimately feel. 

(Shortform note: Bartlett cites the work of an expert on dying who says that people entering their final stages of life report regret at having lived lives that others wanted them to live instead of being true to their own desires. In The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer offers a different take, arguing that you don’t have to wait until your final days to learn important lessons about life; death can teach you how to live differently and better now. He says that death teaches you to pay attention to the small stuff, worry less about minor problems, let go of grudges, be present when you’re with the people you love, and say yes to life’s many experiences.)    

Bartlett’s Revelation About Motivations 

When Bartlett was 27 and at the height of his career, he quit his job as the millionaire head of Social Chain. He says this decision mystified most people around him but made complete sense to him. He says he quit Social Chain for the same reason he quit university: He always quits when things “suck,” when he knows he can’t make them suck less, or when the effort to make them suck less isn’t worth whatever the payoff might be for making them better. He says that quitting under these conditions has always put him on the road to greater contentment and it gives him the feeling of doing right by himself. 

(Shortform note: In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson counters Bartlett’s idea that quitting is the answer when things suck, arguing that a culture of toxic positivity and happiness has deluded people into believing that they’re entitled to feel good all the time. When people expect to always feel good, they vigorously avoid pain. But pain is an unavoidable part of life. So you should accept that sometimes things won’t go well and you’ll feel bad and use this reality as fuel for improvement.)

Achieving Your Goals

Bartlett argues that consistently taking steps to achieve your goals is the under-acknowledged and underrated key to success. The more time and energy you regularly put into doing things that will help you reach your dreams—even if the steps you take are small—the more growth, momentum, and progress you’ll experience. 

Bartlett credits consistency over time as the factor that enabled him to build a global business at age 21, get in the best shape in his life, and have millions in the bank. He also says it was the key to his hitting the million-follower mark on social media, explaining that with each post he made and each follower he gained over a five year period, he learned, grew, and moved steadily closer to the six-figure number. 

(Shortform note: Bartlett points to his social media numbers and financial status as markers of his success after stating earlier that the internet, social media, and algorithms are responsible for brainwashing us into believing that these are meaningful goals that will bring us happiness and success.) 

Bartlett states that people often don’t want to take small steps toward their goals for two reasons: 

  1. They don’t see immediate results.
  2. They believe society’s false narrative that success arises from one moment of greatness. For example, the media often focuses on Olympic gold medalists’ moments of victory, not the hours, months, and years of practice that got them there.

(Shortform note: Experts recommend crafting goals using the SMART acronym: Goals should be Specific, Meaningful, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable. For example, setting the goal, “I want to do 20 pushups every day to get stronger” is more specific, realistic, trackable, and achievable than “I want to get in shape this year.”) 

How Meaningful Goals Make You Happier

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Steven Bartlett's "Happy Sexy Millionaire" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Happy Sexy Millionaire summary:

  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.