This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Roisin Meaney is the author of 10 novels, and her most recent, After The Wedding, came out last month. Here, she tells us why Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff has had such an impression on her life.
The self-help book never really featured on my reading radar. I suppose I was lucky enough – or arrogant enough – to figure that when it came to character development and mental well-being, I was doing fine, thanks. I didn’t need a book to tell me how to win friends and influence people, and I was well able to feel the fear and do it anyway all by myself. The thought of some faceless counsellor or pseudo-psychiatrist or whatever telling me, a complete stranger, how I could improve my life seemed ludicrous to me. As far as I was concerned, reading was an exercise primarily designed to provide entertainment: if I needed to be cured I had my doctor.
So it’s pretty inexplicable that a self-help book found its way onto my bookshelves. For the life of me I can’t recall the circumstances that led to my buying Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff, but I suspect it happened at a time when I was under quite a bit of work-related pressure, some months or years before I finally got sense and quit my day job in order to devote my waking hours to writing. Anyway, there Richard Carlson is, stuffed in between the novels and poetry collections and short story anthologies. What’s more, I often pull him out and remind myself why he’s still there, well over a decade later.One of the things I love about the book is that it’s written in plain English, with no hint of psychobabble, and no preaching. It reads like a chat you might have with a wise friend over a frothy coffee. What’s more, it’s delivered in concise, easy-to-swallow chapters, usually less than two pages long, with headings like Count to Ten, Choose Your Battles Wisely, Stop Blaming Others, and Be Happy Where You Are. It’s not perfect: from time to time it wanders dangerously close to the land of schmalzdom – Tell Three People (Today) How Much You Love Them, Turn Your Melodrama into a Mellow-Drama – but by and large it’s full of practical and commonsense suggestions for reducing stress and increasing happiness.
It was here that I first read about the random act of kindness – Carlson cited the practice that began in San Francisco of people paying the toll of the driver behind them on a toll bridge – and the notion so charmed me of giving a spontaneous random gift with no expectation of anything in return that I’ve tried to put it into practice ever since. I’m no saint, but you know what? It makes me feel good – and hopefully the recipient enjoys it too. Now that’s what I call win-win.
The book didn’t turn me into a self-help junkie. On the contrary, I haven’t picked up another one since. But I do feel that this one has paid for itself several times over. It’s equipped me with simple strategies to avoid – or at least minimise – stressful situations, and it’s taught me to be kinder. And much as I love them, there are precious few novels that can claim to do that.