Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Summary & Review

don't sweat the small stuff book cover

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff (1997) is a simple self-help book sharing a deep philosophical take on life.
Richard Carlson, the author, recommends we take life a bit less seriously and we prioritize peace of mind, love, and relationships over the stresses of overworking and “achieving”.

Bullet Summary

  • There are no emergencies. Chill
  • Stress is an acceptable, even admired form of mental illness. Don’t buy into it
  • Don’t skimp on relaxing time: prioritize it

Full Summary

About The Author: Richard Carlson was an American psychotherapist, motivational speaker, and author.
His message was focused on the well-being and the joy of life over “achievement”.

#1. Choose Relaxed Over Competitive

The author says it’s not true that to achieve and get things done, we need to be competitive and stressed out.

It’s best to approach life with a relaxed and contemplative attitude, instead.
And you should never lose the ability to relax and take a breather whenever you need one, especially after having worked hard.

Here are a couple of great ways to enjoy a more relaxed life:

  • Stop living life according to others
  • Stop trying to please others

You can’t please everyone. Stay true to yourself instead

Let Go of Your Ego

We are all driven by a need to look good and “important”.

When we give in to these cravings, we can do things that hurt the people around us.
Sometimes even in very small ways, like jumping in to fix a mistake so that we can “look good” or trying to impress them with how good we are.

But when we focus on impressing instead of understanding, developing human connections, and helping people for the sake of helping, we hurt our relationships

Much better instead to take a step back from our own ego.

Let’s all take a big step back from our own egos

Let Go of Resentment & Need to Be Right

Sometimes we harbor resentment out of small squabbles or little things someone said or did.
When we let that happen, we unwittingly turn small things into big ones.

Richard Carlson says that we do it because we tend to see forgiveness as weak and sometimes we feel like in a race to show who’s stronger.
We might decide to cut a relationship with a loved one in the hope that they will come back so we can “win”.
But maybe they’re thinking the exact same thing.

Avoid it altogether by keeping small things small and letting go of the need to be right.

Spread the Love

Remind the people you love that you love them.
And cut some slack to the people who annoy. Chances are that nobody is actually out to annoy you, but that you are just having a bad day yourself.

Treat yourself well by treating others well

Your Thoughts Are Your Reality

Our lives are a reflection of our thoughts.
And if we can change our thoughts.

Similar to many self-development authors like Tony Robbins recommend, Richard Carlson recommends that when you’re feeling negative you deliberately change your thoughts to something more positive.

The author says that a good way to take control of your mind and thoughts is to spend some time alone, like meditation, yoga, or a walk in nature.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff has some content overlap with The Power of Now when it encourages the readers to focus on the present and to “live in the moment” instead of worrying about what might happen in the future.

Some books on meditation and the power of thoughts:

The present is the only time that exists: cherish it

Don’t Fight Against Your Problems

The author says that a great obstacle to thinking positively is problems.
But more than our problems, it’s actually how we approach problems.

We should not approach problems as if we need to fight against them, but we should approach them as an opportunity to learn from.
And focus on what you have instead of what’s missing.

Also, read:

You can’t control the world outside you. But you control the one inside you

Don’t Be a Perfectionist

Some people think that being a perfectionist will bring out the best in us. But Carlson instead says that perfectionism will only make us unhappy by focusing on what we did wrong.

Also, read:

Nothing is An Emergency

And finally, my favorite part.

I have repeated this to myself, to friends, family, and partners alike a million times.

When you’re stressed out, when you feel you really destroyed your chance to achieve X, or when you get fired and everything seems bleak, stop for a second.
And tell yourself:

Nothing is an emergency

And then go do something that makes you happy or get in touch with someone you love.

Prioritize Relax

The one thing that we too often seem to procrastinate on is relaxing time.
Indeed, in my opinion, the highest achievers among us will often feel bad even when relaxing, thus they have no relaxing time at all.

It’s time you start planning some time for yourself instead without putting it off any further.
It might take a while to get used to that relaxing time is an important part of our life.
Life for anything else, stick with it and it will eventually become part of who you are.

don't sweat the small stuff book cover

Practical Applications

This is such an important life philosophy:

  • Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff

I absolutely, absolutely love this title. And it summarizes a great approach to life.

Stop being a drama queen, it’s just 90 years on a rock spinning around space.
No matter what you do, it’s not gonna matter much anyway.
And that’s truly empowering.

This is similar to Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck“, but expressed in a deeper fashion.


  • Bit Goody-Goody

Sometimes Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff felt a bit too goody-goody Pollyanna to me.
In the sense that yes, for sure, do good… But you also must be ready for those who aren’t going to do go stuff. And as you do good, you must also be able to judge characters that are not going to do good things back.

  • Happiness Before Achievement… ??

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff seems simplistic in its approach to life and “happiness” sometimes.
It says not to worry too much about “achieving” because you might forget about more important things in your life like your own peace of mind and your family. And those are what will make you happy.

But what about people who are happy while they strive to achieve as much as possible (read Be Obsessed or Be Average)? Or those people who can’t help, but strive to achieve (read Relentless)?


  • Truly Great Life Philosophy

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff shares a great life philosophy.
I know many people -and you probably do too- that take things often way too seriously.
This book can help you take a step back and, well, chill a little bit more.


Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff often reflects my own life philosophy.

Don’t Sweat The Small Grades: My Experience

I remember in high school when most of my colleagues stressed about grades and desperately tried to copy during tests.
And I’d write my own paper without even trying to copy. The professor would go out and I still wouldn’t copy.

This scene has remained emblazoned in my mind.
Our history and philosophy professor wouldn’t even check if people were copying.
He gave us a test and then started reading the newspaper. Then, all of a sudden, he stood up.
And the whole class exploded: everyone had their books out to copy, and everyone scrambled to hide them as quickly as possible, either back below the table or back inside their bags.

Everyone except one.
Because that guy didn’t want to copy.
He wanted to write what he remembered, adding his own spin to events.
And because, well… He didn’t really care about the grades.

Grades were small stuff.
And he didn’t sweat the small stuff.

But A Few Things Matter, And Those You Should Focus On

So this book struck a chord with me.

I totally agree with it. But at the same time, I don’t live according to it because I also enjoy achieving my goals and progressing.

As I explain in Ultimate Power, that’s the power of holding two conflicting thoughts in your mind.
So for example I care about providing the best possible material and content on this website. And about that, I care.

This is something I’d invite you to do as well if you want to achieve while living a happy and fulfilling life.
Focus on a few things that matter… And don’t sweat the rest of the small stuff.

Read more about how this philosophy helped me launch this business.

TL, DR: albeit I don’t live as the book recommends in all areas of my life, I still have that same philosophy for most of my life.
And I can only recommend it to you.

Read more summaries or get the book on Amazon

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