Richard Carlson

Bestselling self-help guru


Richard Carlson, psychologist and writer: born Piedmont, California 16 May 1961; married 1981 Kris Anderson (two daughters); died 13 December 2006.

Richard Carlson was a popular psychologist in all senses of the phrase. His best-known title, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and It's All Small Stuff (1997), was one of the fastest-selling books of all time and made publishing history as USA Today's bestselling book for two consecutive years. It spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, as well as topping the sales charts in nations as diverse as the UK and Japan. In the self-help market, where new titles proliferate and disappear as fast as they appear, Carlson's Don't Sweat the Small Stuff has been a constant on the shelves of UK bookshops for nearly a decade.

His philosophy is that we all spend far too much time fretting over trivia that is irrelevant in the long run ("sweating the small stuff") and not enough time concentrating calmly on what's going right, rather than what's going wrong. "We blow things out of proportion," he explained:

When people are dealing with the big stuff in life - death, earthquake, financial crisis - they find an inner strength. But they freak out over the smallest things. The big things are few and far between, but the little things drive us bonkers. It's very exhausting and it takes the joy out of life.

Carlson lived in California all his life. He was born, in 1941, and grew up in Piedmont, where his childhood pet was a dog called Happy. He graduated from Pepperdine University in Malibu and received his PhD from La Sierra University in Riverside. Carlson worked as a psychotherapist and ran a stress management centre before devoting himself full-time to writing; early titles included Celebrate Your Child: the art of happy parenting (1992) and Handbook for the Soul (1995), before the runaway success of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

Many of Carlson's ideas are straightforward. The first suggestion in Don't Sweat the Small Stuff is "don't sweat the small stuff"; other ideas include getting up early to enjoy a period of quiet and meditation first thing in the morning, writing things down in the form of a diary, journal or letter, and focusing on the 90 per cent of things that go right rather than the 10 per cent that go wrong ("avoiding the 90-10 trap").

The Don't Sweat formula was rolled out with Don't Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family (1998), Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work (1999) and Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens (2000), as well as Don't Sweat the Small Stuff in Love (1999), co-authored with Kris, his wife. Carlson was one of the first self-help gurus to advocate the gentler goals of self-fulfilment, personal satisfaction and happiness, after the go-getting, grab-it-all focus of the Eighties. His 30 titles also included You Can Be Happy No Matter What (2006).

His tenets are less anodyne than they might seem, concentrating as they do on not equating material possessions with happiness, being kind to others, attempting to see others' viewpoints and managing conflict serenely. When I interviewed him in 1998, I was prepared to be cynical. In fact, Carlson was not only likeable and friendly, but realistic. He did not deny the existence of "big stuff" (indeed, in 2002 he published What About the Big Stuff?). However, he claimed, reasonably enough, that we have no right to expect everything else in life to run smoothly.

"We have come to believe, especially in industrialised Western nations where we are very privileged, that our lives should be perfect," he said. "We feel like we shouldn't have to deal with traffic jams or flat tyres or people who are rude to us."

Carlson died, apparently of a heart attack, on a plane on the way from San Francisco to New York; he was on his way to make television appearances promoting his latest book, Don't Get Scrooged: how to thrive in a world full of obnoxious, incompetent, arrogant and downright mean-spirited people.

Hester Lacey

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum