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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How can you stop comparing yourself to others? Why is it so important to stop?
According to Steven Bartlett, you can’t find happiness, love, and wealth by simply following three steps and a hack or two. In Happy Sexy Millionaire, he explains why the internet, social media, and algorithms have dazzled you into comparing yourself to others and why it’s important to stop.
Keep reading for Bartlett’s advice on how to stop comparing yourself to others.
Why Should You Stop Comparing?
In his book, Happy Sexy Millionaire, Steven Bartlett says that chasing after inauthentic, meaningless goals has left us lost, and that to feel content, successful, and loved, we have to first find ourselves again. He argues that society has brainwashed us into wanting things that were never our goals in the first place. According to him, you then feel inferior when you don’t achieve those goals because you’re comparing your life to others. In this article, we’ll examine how warped societal pressures have led us astray, and how you can stop comparing yourself to others by finding your way back to your true self, according to Bartlett’s advice.
Know That You’re Enough
Bartlett says that fulfillment is something that exists within you here and now—it’s not some elusive thing you achieve when you reach a certain level of success. He argues that we’re born “enough,” but society bombards us with messages that say we’re inadequate and need to fix ourselves. For example, corporations sell us things they say we need, schools and universities tell us we have to ascend to a more elevated level, and social media influencers say that we should do what they do to have a better life.
(Shortform note: In You Are a Badass, Jen Sincero agrees with Bartlett’s assertion that you’re born “enough” and takes it a step further, arguing that you were born—and will always be—a badass. Sincero contends that the universe loves you unconditionally, wants you to see in yourself what it sees in you, and wants to give you everything you desire—including happiness. She says that we all get to choose our perception of reality, and that when you have insecure moments, you should try looking at yourself from the perspective of someone who admires you and sees your potential and talents. Doing this will counter your negative feelings and make you your own biggest fan.)
Bartlett believes it’s important to stop comparing yourself to others, arguing that when we compare who we are, what we do, and what we have to other people, it makes us miserable. This is because we don’t know that anything’s “wrong” with us until we see other people who appear happier, more attractive, more satisfied in their relationships, and more successful than we are. But, he says, nothing in the world actually has value until you assign meaning to it and compare it to something else. So, when you compare yourself to others, like someone who appears more successful than you, you feel insecure, worthless, and powerless. Conversely, when you compare yourself to people who appear less successful than you, you experience a temporary feeling of pleasure that disappears. It’s important to note that pleasure, a fleeting feeling, is not the same as the ongoing state of contentment.
(Shortform note: Bartlett discourages comparing yourself to others but doesn’t go into detail about how to stop doing it. Experts say you can step out of the comparison game by first acknowledging that you’re engaged in it. Recognizing that comparing yourself to others is a no-win game—because there will always be someone smarter, funnier, better looking, or richer than you—prevents you from getting trapped in it. You can also exit the comparison game by understanding that while it’s nice when someone pays you a compliment, that doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else. Finally, you can free yourself from comparison by being yourself and doing things you care about, which will bring you true contentment.)
It’s Easier Said Than Done
Bartlett says that even though comparing yourself to others is meaningless, it’s nearly impossible to stop once you’ve started. This is because our brains can’t rationally process all the information that social media is blasting at us like a firehose. He argues that our brains aren’t rational to begin with because they’re driven by hormones, impulses, survival instincts, and emotions. These drivers regularly lead us to make reactionary decisions and chase goals that aren’t important. Our inability to think clearly about what truly matters to us, he says, makes it nearly impossible to live a fulfilling life.
(Shortform note: Not only do our impulsive, irrational brains make it difficult to think clearly, but experts also argue that trying to reign in the chaos and think straight is a losing battle due to how our brains naturally operate. They explain that the brain is like a circuit board that records your lifetime of experiences, and these experiences are largely immutable because a) they’re so deeply imprinted and b) any time you invest in trying to figure them out only reinforces them. Complicating matters, your unconscious brain processes 11 million bits of information per second compared with a mere 40 bits per second that your conscious brain processes—making it nearly impossible to alter your circuit board via rational interventions.)
Bartlett argues that to find true contentment, you have to stop comparing yourself to others. He recommends that you disengage from social media platforms and reality TV shows, distance yourself from people who encourage you to compare yourself to others, and center yourself in a smaller, simpler world.
For example, instead of spending a Saturday scrolling through pictures on Instagram and thinking about how everyone’s having more fun than you are, take a two-hour break from your phone and go for a walk, spend some time writing, or meet friends for a night out. Stay off your phone during your activity, and when it’s over, take a moment to think about how you felt when you were physically engaged in the world, or in the company of others, and compare this to how you feel after a day of scrolling through social media.
(Shortform note: In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport says you can detach in an uber-connected world by streamlining and simplifying your technology use. First, ask yourself: Of all the technology that I’m using, which adds value to my life and which creates clutter? From there, eliminate the technology that falls into the latter category. Finally, decide which are the most important features of each remaining piece of technology and use only those.)
Bartlett’s Revelation About What’s Meaningful
Bartlett says that he used to be addicted to “hustle porn”—the idea that if you work yourself to the bone, you can have the same world of riches that social media influencers appear to have. But he started questioning if he should stop comparing himself to others when, in 2016, he found his best friend and business partner, Dominic, drunk and passed out at 3:00 a.m. in the mansion they shared. Not long after Bartlett carried his friend’s limp body to bed, he found Dominic awake and naked in the wine-stained bed where he’d deposited him—with a new, uncorked bottle in hand.
Bartlett says that in the days that followed, he watched his close friend unravel and he realized that he’d missed signs that his friend, a functional alcoholic, was in deep trouble. Trying to be tough even as he struggled, Dominic had never divulged his suffering, and Bartlett blamed himself for failing to create conditions that would have allowed his friend to be vulnerable. It wasn’t until Dominic got sober that Bartlett learned his closest friend had been living with severe anxiety and depression. Bartlett felt guilty that he’d never checked in with his friend in a way that would have encouraged him to share his struggles. The episode led Bartlett to reevaluate his priorities and think about what truly mattered to him: having meaningful emotional connections and balance in his life.
(Shortform note: Bartlett doesn’t explicitly connect hustle porn to his and Dominic’s failure to emotionally connect in meaningful ways, but it’s implied. Some say that hustle porn is a toxic phenomenon that can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health, preventing you from connecting with others and experiencing empathy. Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian says that he and his wife, Serena Williams, spent years pushing themselves and putting their well-being on hold. Though their poor sleeping and eating habits didn’t have any long-term effects, these habits can put hustle porners at risk of cardiovascular problems, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. He recommends balancing your work with time with loved ones, and prioritizing sleep.)
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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