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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

By Richard Carlson





The author’s message in this inspirational book is that so many of us “live our lives as if they were one big emergency.” He points out that many of us spend our days running around being busy and effectively spinning plates as we try to be all things to all people, but instead of getting things done and solving problems, we’re more often than not just compounding them. This will resonate with most people, and those who pick up this book will no doubt have experienced that feeling of everything seeming to be such a big deal, and daily life beginning to feel like it's one big drama after another. Richard’s solution to all of this is to learn how to disengage from the crazy, fast-paced modern world, and to take a more considered, mindful path.

In the pages of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, he reminds us that “it’s all small stuff.” Offering words of wisdom in 136 short essays that can be considered life strategies, he aims to help the reader live in a calmer, less stressful way as they learn how to replace old habits of reaction with new habits of perspective. In so doing, problems that seemed “insurmountable” will begin to seem more manageable, and the benefits of taking time out to smell the roses become clear.

My Top 3 Takes from the Summary

  • Your entire life is a reflection of your thoughts, so positive thinking should be everyone’s aim.

  • Giving up relaxation is not the way to achieve goals.

  • The secret to being happy is to appreciate the present – and to be patient.


It's All Small Stuff

Your entire life is a reflection of your thoughts; your thoughts create your reality, so if your mind is full of negativity, your reality will appear equally negative. The author wants readers to understand that they don’t just observe their thinking, they live it out, so positive thinking should be everyone’s aim. The pace of modern life is so fast that many of us slip into thinking we need to speed everything up to fit it all in, but the author suggests the opposite. He believes we need to start slowing down if we want to live a more fulfilled life. If your thoughts are centred on everything you haven’t done or all the things you don’t have, the negativity in your thoughts will be experienced in your reality. Slowing down, taking time out for yourself, and switching your thoughts to focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have gives you the power to change your reality. A very effective way of reminding yourself that it’s all small stuff is to ask yourself, “Will this matter in a year?”



Getting Things Done


Taking time out for yourself might seem like an impossible dream because you’re just so busy, but the author points out that constantly working yourself into a stressed-out state can only ever leave you fatigued and unhappy – and you won’t get any more done. Contrary to the beliefs of many, giving up relaxation is not the way to achieve goals. A life of disciplined hard work might seem like a productive approach, but in reality, you just run yourself into the ground. To realise your dreams, you need to adopt a relaxed and contemplative approach to life.


An important observation made by the author is that many of us only ever allow ourselves to relax on a planned holiday. He believes that we should all be taking breaks whenever we’ve been working hard, not just scheduled breaks, and an important step in making this happen is to remember that not everything in life is an emergency. He points out that we’ll often work ourselves into unhappiness because we’re trying to please others, so to live a more relaxed life, we need to stop living for others and follow our own will. In other words, stop doing what you think other people want from you – it’ll only stress you out. It’s impossible to please everyone all the time anyway, so it’s much healthier to be true to yourself and your own goals.



Keep the Small Stuff Small


The author acknowledges that we all like to feel significant, and it’s part of why we want to be liked. It’s also why we keep pushing ourselves to do things that we think will be well received, but we create a lot of problems for ourselves by living this way. For some, feeling significant is linked to feeling important, and for most, being able to impress by speaking our minds is important. However, this can lead to interrupting others when they’re speaking, or not listening to what they’re saying, and this can be harmful to relationships.

To change this, he suggests letting go of your ego and being patient. Letting other people talk isn’t always going to be easy, but it will go a long way towards improving your interactions with them. If you’re determined to always be right, you’ll alienate yourself from the people who really matter, and if you hold on to anger, it can lead to a small argument with someone becoming something big – like deciding to never talk to them again. It’s not uncommon to harbour resentment for anyone you’ve had an argument or misunderstanding with, but doing so tends to turn small stuff into big stuff in your mind.


So, even if you feel the need to correct something a loved one says, just stay calm and let them keep speaking. This will create a much more relaxed atmosphere between the two of you. We subconsciously want to protect our images, and will even go so far as to give up relationships with loved ones just to protect our egos, but all the while we’ll be hoping those loved ones will come back. There’s no need for any of this if you simply let go of your need to be right. Instead, focus on being happy. Keep the small stuff small, and know that there are much more important things to care about.



You Can Choose Your Thoughts


Another important point made by the author is that nothing stays forever, every moment is temporary, and everything will pass, including your mood. If you find yourself stuck in a bad mood, focus on changing the way you think – you can choose to feel better whenever you want. He suggests that spending some time alone is a good way to train your thoughts and become more optimistic. When you take time for yourself, you give yourself a precious gift. Whether it’s ten minutes of meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature, quiet time is an important part of your life.

Problems will always be a part of your life – that’s life – and it’s important to realise that you don’t achieve happiness by getting rid of your problems, you achieve it by learning from them. You can never control the outside world, but you can control what happens in your inner world – your mind. Confronting your problems with aggressiveness will only bring greater frustration. The author explains: Let’s say your problem is that you feel envious of someone else’s happiness. First, try to understand why you feel this way. What part of your life are you unsatisfied with and what can you do to make it better? Focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have. If you find yourself wishing your partner was different, try thinking about their positive qualities. Instead of complaining about your salary, be grateful you have a job. You’ll start to feel much better about your life. Your problems can serve as great teachers and should be viewed as a source of awakening.



Little Acts of Kindness


We’re reminded by the author that you can put all your effort into making yourself happy but still feel empty inside. For this reason, he suggests making others happy as a better alternative. Sharing your love with others can be magical, and he tells readers that it won’t just make other people happier, it will make them happier too.


We’re often so busy working toward our goals that we forget to appreciate the things that matter most. So, take a break each day and think about the people you’re thankful for. Let your loved ones know that you’re grateful to have them. Your gesture doesn’t have to change the person’s life, but it’ll certainly brighten their day. Little acts of kindness such as taking out the trash instead of waiting for your partner to do it can make a big difference. Of course, there are also people you don’t love, and people who annoy you, but choosing to give them a break will also increase your happiness. They may be frustrating, but you don’t need to get upset. Instead, try to understand what’s causing them to be that way. It’s never the circumstance, but how you handle the circumstance that affects your own mood. When you empathise with them, they’ll annoy you less.



Live In the Moment


The author believes people are nervous and anxious far too often, and we forget to take a deep breath and enjoy the only moment we really have – now. Living in the moment is essential if we want peace of mind, but many of us dwell on problems from the past and worry about the future so much that we end up frustrated, depressed, and anxious. This is a situation that can be avoided by staying focused on the here and now. One practical suggestion given is to spend a few minutes concentrating on your breathing. It’s very distracting to always want to be somewhere else, so this is a great way to bring your mind into the present moment and appreciate where you are in that moment. When you focus on where you are now, you’ll find peace, even when things are challenging. Don’t keep holding out for the perfect moment – it will never come.


Of course, life isn’t always exactly what you want, and it can be frustrating, but the secret to being happy is to appreciate the present – and to be patient. When you’re patient with yourself and your life, you’ll be more willing to accept things as they are. Practice patience on a daily basis. If you get stressed out at work, take five minutes to focus on your breathing and forget about your boss, and you might even gain some new insights on the situation during those five minutes. Doing too many things at once can also prevent you from enjoying the moment, so don’t be too anxious to finish all your tasks at once. Pace yourself, try to learn something from everything you do, and remember that the present is the only time that really exists: cherish it for what it is.



Your Life, Your Choice


The constant rush of a fast-paced world puts pressure on everything we do. There’s pressure to get it done now, and pressure to do it perfectly, even in the most basic of daily tasks. The author points out that you may think you can bring out your best by being a perfectionist, but it will never work because striving to be perfect will only lead to focusing on your flaws. Readers are reminded that life isn’t an emergency, and there’s really nothing more important than their happiness, so the focus should be on things they appreciate, not things they want to change.


People often slip into neglecting their families and foregoing their dreams because they feel they need to do as much work as they can, and as quickly as possible, meaning there’s no time to relax – adding to the stress and the pressure. Relaxing is procrastinated over, and it becomes something we’ll do later, but the author wants the reader to understand that they can choose to relax now. He suggests just taking a moment to call someone you love, or to do something else that makes you happy, even when you’re genuinely busy, because those moments of relaxation will help to clear your mind. With a more relaxed attitude, problems gradually melt away, and small stuff remains small.    



The words of wisdom presented by the author hammer home the message that we all have to decide for ourselves how we want to live our lives. By mastering our thoughts, we master ourselves, and we always have a choice over what we choose to think. In learning how to keep the small stuff small, we will find real happiness and genuine peace of mind in life.




Richard Carlson’s gentle, supportive writing style encourages the reader to take time out to consider what really matters in life. His words of wisdom and short strategies not only provide food for thought, but they also offer simple suggestions that anyone can try putting into practice to bring a sense of calm into everyday life.



Bio of the Author

Richard Carlson (1961-2006) was an author, psychotherapist, and motivational speaker. ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ is a series of 18 books with strategies aimed at specific groups, including teens, parents, teachers, graduates, and newlyweds.  


Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Overtaking

Your Life by Richard Carlson, 1998, ISBN: 978-0340708019 is available to buy at Amazon.


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