Thursday, 7 January 2016

Book Review: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff with your Family, Richard Carlson, Hachette Books, 1998

Moving away from the more serious, spiritual-minded posts, we have a light, breezy self-help book from the popular Richard Carlson, who sadly passed away in his prime in 2006.


This book consists of a hundred fairly simple, common sense tips designed to damage control the fast-paced, competitive, extraverted ways of modern capitalistic society. Quite a useful, helpful book full of very traditional Stoic, medieval Christian, or Buddhist principles repackaged for the micro-managing, daily life minutiae-focused Seinfeld generation, showing that what’s old is new again and that modernism can use a healthy dose of perennial wisdom. Basically the book can be summarized as “learn patience, compassion, and detachment”. (Note that according to William Q. Judge “Humility, Patience, and Contentment are the first three steps that lead to the door”.) This book is saved from being a collection of shallow, feel-good truisms by the fact that the author shows a willingness to introspect. Observing oneself and correcting one’s behavior is no easy task and the author communicates a sincere desire to engage in this tricky business of self-amendment. And it’s always good to be reminded of the simple things, which we often forget and which are not always easy to put in practice. Who has not become needlessly irritated over the silly foibles of daily life? Somewhat contrary to the book’s spontaneous, personal, casual approach, I’ve re-organized the tips into three categories:

Personal attitudes: Forgive your outbursts; choose the lifestyle that you enjoy; keep your promises; don’t worry when you spill your drinks (visualize this advance to inure yourself to it); meditate on gratitude; make light of unpleasant situations; avoid knee-jerk reactions; nip down sliding situation in the bud; avoid putting yourself down; learn to let go (detachment); meditate on love; don’t feel victimized; lower your expectations; don’t go to bed mad; don’t be so self-centered; don’t be so hard on yourself (perfectionism); action speak louder than words; stay centered; become less easily bothered; don’t gossip; learn to relativize; speak with kindness; take life as it comes; don’t constantly evaluate yourself; behave as if you were being observed; organize your mind; don’t engage in compulsive thinking; don’t exaggerate your work load; don’t repeat the same mistakes; learn to appreciate small improvements; avoid making false assumptions; speak softly; be playful; acknowledge positive accomplishments  daily; have a simple hobby; be peaceful; accept change; don’t be a control freak; learn to defer gratification; reflect on the mutability of existence (shortness of life)

Relation to others: Set a positive emotional climate; if you’re nice to your spouse, he or she will help you; learn from children’s positive traits; be a good listener; don’t worry about children bickering; don’t overstimulate your children; set a good example to your children; don’t be too stressed about teenage behaviour; tell people that you love them; keep good company; agree to disagree; don’t overburden your relations with negative complaining; be flexible with children; don’t take your spouse for granted; give in sometimes (compromise); appreciate your in-laws; be aware of your mood swings; be accepting of your loved ones; accept people’s quirks; avoid saying how busy you are; be tolerant towards your neighbours; have empathy for your family members; show your appreciation; don’t hurt people’s feelings; don’t be overbearing; remind others to treasure life; don’t expect people to be perfect; don’t expect family members to treat you the same as other people do; learn from your children; be patient with your landlord of building manager; reminisce over fond souvenirs, express gratitude for your home; accept that children need to complain; reverse roles with your spouse; live every day as it were the last with your family

Practical: Give yourself an extra ten-minute cushion; maintain privacy boundaries; accept that a house requires constant maintenance; don’t answer the phone systematically; give something away, if you buy something new; schedule free time; simplify your life; set aside personal quality time; decorate your home; explore low-cost activities; don’t be overly ambitious or acquisitive; don’t do too much; keep work life separate; schedule caring gestures; have family meetings; don’t over-emphasize vacations; take moments of sitting still; stay healthy; go camping; don’t accumulate too many belongings; have a favorite family charity; exercise, get rid of clutter

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