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

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
Paul McCartney backs the
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone