Ep.18: Don’t Sweat the Small Things with Kristine Carlson
Today I’m introducing you to my friend Kristine Carlson and her husband Richard Carlson. They have nine New York Times best sellers, published in many, many languages, and have sold 30 million books. Most recognizable is their book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s all Small Stuff.” They are passionate about spreading a message of returning from grief, waking up to life with more joy and gratitude, and not taking life too seriously. Enjoy!
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Learn more about Kristin and her mission here! http://kristinecarlson.com/
Check out the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” legacy: http://dontsweat.com/
Keep in touch by liking our Facebook page!
Robyn: Hi everyone, Robyn Openshaw and have I got a treat for you today. Kristine Carlson and her husband Richard Carlson have been on the Oprah Winfrey Show, many, many times. They have nine New York Times best sellers, published in many, many languages, and have sold 30 million books. They are passionate about spreading a message of returning from grief, waking up to life with more joy and gratitude, and not taking life too seriously. We’re talking today, mostly about Richard’s original work, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s all Small Stuff.” Let me welcome Kristine Carlson.
Kristine: Hi, thank you so much Robyn. I’m so excited to be speaking with you.
Robyn: You and I are about the same age, and we have so much in common. Raising children, we’re both book authors, but I want to tell my audience whom I adore, and who have been following Green Smoothie Girl for close to a decade now, many of them. That the work of your husband Richard Carlson, specifically the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s all Small Stuff,” completely changed my life years ago. I want you to give us a little back story on his professional background, and your interaction with this whole series of now nine books published, in I’m sure a lot of languages, 30 million copies sold of those nine books.
What I want to start with is just telling you how as a very driven, type A, can’t fail at anything, over achiever, oldest child of eight kind of train wreck of a human, how much permission you gave me …
Kristine: Wow, oldest child of eight really caught me.
Robyn: Well, I’m from Utah so enough said, right? You saved me. You saved me from myself. I’d love for you, rather than tell things I love about the book, I just want to start with can you give me a little backstory on your and Richard’s story?
Kristine: Sure. Richard and I met in college. I was 18 and he was 20, it was kind of a fairytale romance, as close as possible to what you would expect. Meeting, and then falling in love instantly. We got married after I got out of college, and then we had our two daughters. I like to say that Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff was your typical overnight success story, because it took 10 years.
Robyn: I love those stories, they’re the best ones. That means you worked really, really hard. That’s inspiring to our audience, who’s trying really hard to do something.
Kristine: Right, so it took a lot of tenacity on Richard’s part, and on my part in supporting him as an author. He had written 10 books … Or, nine books. On his 10th book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, really hit a cord around the world. It wasn’t just even in the United States, it was a global phenomenon. It just began to be one of the fastest selling self help books of all time at that time period. It was right in neck and neck 1997 with Chicken Soup for the Soul, when that books series really took off too. It was a really amazing time in our lives.
Richard was a psychologist who had studied psychology through his PhD program, but didn’t practice traditional psychology. He practiced what he called, “Happiness training,” for a long time. He didn’t believe in traditional psychology, really helping people all that much. He really was a pioneer before positive psychology, and the mindfulness movement, about really understand that people were basically healthy, and that they had moments of getting off track. We’re not talking about people with severe mental illnesses like Schizophrenia, or personality, borderline personality disorder, or some true chemical disorders. We’re talking about the majority of people that are healthy minded, but they get off track.
He really believed that if you taught people some basic principles about happiness, then they could access their mental health and well being a lot easier, and get back on track more quickly. That’s what he’s set about to do in his work.
Robyn: I love it. As a former psychotherapist myself, who also has left private practice, and who doesn’t really believe that most of what the psychology profession is doing, it’s particularly helpful. In fact, more than one study shows that people in therapy, a third of them get better, a third of them get worse, and a third stay the same. Which is the exact same statistic of people not in therapy. It’s not that therapy doesn’t help people, and it’s not that I wouldn’t ever tell anybody to go to therapy.
Kristine: I found it very helpful to myself when I was younger. It was incredibly helpful to have somebody listen to me very well.
Robyn: You know, and that’s the value of it. Sometimes there’s nobody who’s not, you need someone who’s objective, and can stand back, and who has that training. The point is, I really resonate with the idea of teaching people something more hands on, more common sense. I got so much common sense perspective from the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series. Will you tell us before, I really want to dive into some of the best bits from this work that you and Richard created. Would you tell us what happened next in your life?
Kristine: We went about our lives, raising our daughters. Really, really enjoying an amazing 10 year run with the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff books. Richard introduced me into the series when we wrote, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love,” together. Then he asked me to write, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women,” in the series. Then 10 years in, exactly the 10th anniversary, Richard was promoting his latest book which wasn’t a Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff book, but it was a book that he wrote with Harper Collins at the time. He was on a book tour, it was busy, it was early December, December 13th, and he got on a flight to New York. That flight, on the descent of that flight, he died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism.
Robyn: Total shock to you, right? He wasn’t unhealthy in anyway.
Kristine: Yeah, it was. Talk about having the rug pulled out from under our feet. It was literally like he left the night before, I talked to him that night. I picked up the phone to call him that morning, and I missed him by five minutes. He got on the plane at 6:00 AM and I called him at 6:05. Then the next thing was I got a call at about 11:10 my time in California, from a doctor and a nurse. They had told me that they didn’t know what had happened yet, but they had told me that my husband had expired on that flight. It was, I mean, I can’t even begin to describe to you the level of shock that I went through, and what our family went through in reconciling our grief, and going through a process of healing, and just adjusting to life as a single mom, and picking up the reins of the brand too.
I mean, I actually didn’t do much for the first couple of years. I just couldn’t, you know? I really was just concerned with getting myself and my kids through our loss as healthy as we possibly could. I did publish, “An Hour to Live, an Hour to Love, the true story of the best gift ever given.” That was a tribute to Richard. He had answered Steven Levine’s call in his book, “A Year to Live”: “If you could make one phone call and you had an hour to live, who would it be to, what would you say, and why are you waiting?” He had answered that in a 37 page love letter to me on our 18th wedding anniversary three years before he died.
That became such an amazing, comforting, just letter that I would read. Then I decided that I would publish it back to him as a tribute. Then, we were on Oprah right at the first anniversary actually. She did this beautiful tribute to Richard on another segment, but it was about a 20 minute tribute, which was incredible. Yeah, so that was the beginning of a really long, a very long journey. Long journey of healing.
Robyn: What an amazing thing, and a lesson to us all that he wrote you a 37 page tribute and you still have that. I mean, not all of us get to go be on Oprah and listen to Oprah probably weep, and discuss this tragic but beautiful story. To have that, and it just reminds to express my love to the people I care about more often.
Kristine: Yeah, and a letter is just so powerful. I mean, I just wrote on my blog, I wrote a letter to Richard and called it, “A Letter to my Husband,” on my blog at the 10th anniversary. It’s such a powerful healing thing to write a letter, even to somebody’s whose passed, you know? It’s just so healing. It’s so healing to write one to somebody you love before you die. See, that was so Richard. Doesn’t that just sound like what you know about him from his work? I mean, that is how he was. He did not wait to do the things that he was inspired to do, he just did them.
Me on the other hand, I wasn’t as present as he was at the time. Now I am, but I had to learn that inadvertently through my loss. It was really, I feel like he’s always been my master teacher. Boy, I learned just as much through losing him as I did in life with him. I mean, the gifts that I have received in my loss have been amazing. I mean, really been amazing to the rest of my life, especially to my soul growth.
Robyn: I want to get to that, the gifts in your loss. I’m sort of sitting here listening, and doing the math. You met him, you got married, and like all of us you’re building your careers, you probably had nothing. You’re having babies while you have nothing, which is … I mean, that’s like the good stuff right there. You look back when you’re older, and you have money, and you have freedom, and you look back and you’re like, “We were so happy when we had nothing.” You’re just living on love, or whatever.
Tell me if I got this right, 10 years you spent trying to figure it out. He’s writing a bunch of books, hasn’t really hit it big yet, and then all of a sudden he … Probably through relationships, and getting his name out there to a certain extent, he hits a massive New York Times best seller, biggest Chicken Soup and the Soul. Then you enjoy another 10 years of success, and writing more books, and writing books together. Now it’s been another 10 years. Seems like a 30 year journey. Another 10 years since he passed away. We’re going to post in the show notes, “A Letter to my Husband,” from your blog.
If you ask yourself every time you’re getting worked up about, ask yourself if this is going to matter in a year.
Kristine: Yeah, that’s a powerful win. It’s a good tool.
Robyn: It is literally, it has literally led to … My audience has no heard my 90 seconds to metabolize, reframe, and release any negative emotion. Your work, your and Richard’s work has everything to do with my sort of developing this way of so much chaos in the last eight years with my former husband, and his choices, and my children’s choices, and things that we’ve all done. It just has been a hard, hard long thing. It’s hard to raise four kids by yourself.
Kristine: Oh gosh, yeah.
Robyn: You know, I come back to that almost daily Kristine. I want to thank you for that, I want to thank you publicly, I want to thank you personally for the way that helped me sift through all the stupid things I get worked up about. I ask myself almost every single day at least once, “Is this going to matter in a year?” If not I literally just put it in my rear view mirror, about 10 times faster than I did when I was in my twenties, and just pouring so much negative energy into things other people did, things that would happen that aren’t going to matter tomorrow, let alone in a year. It’s just made the quality of my life so much better. Thank you for that.
While you can’t go through the whole book on my podcast, I really would love for anyone who joins us to know a few of the most powerful, most high impact things that you teach.
Kristine: Well there’s some incredible stories. One of the most powerful, there’s a few most powerful stories that I love. One came in from a teacher. He had been using Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in his English classroom for the last 15 years. His graduating seniors have to read the book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” their last 100 days. They read a chapter a day, and then they do a final paper at the end of the semester on the book, and what they learned from it. One of the coolest things was he said that in his school, kids are so excited to read quote, “The Book,” unquote. Then they come back years later and tell him, “Thank you so much for having me read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, that book changed,” they believe that changed the way they live their life.
I wish that Richard had hear that particular story, because to me that was one of the just most significant profound stories that I loved so much. Mostly what people say about the book is that it’s so, I believe it’s so easy to practice the things that Richard points to in all the strategies, and that we point to in all the strategies in all the books. That, they’re all so simple, but it really is that we have habits that we get into. It’s about changing our habits, which then really alters the manner in which we live. Once we alter the manner in which we live, we’re living a lot better, and we can live a lot happier if you can look at some of your habits that don’t serve you well.
I think that practicing a happy life has everything to do with living a happy life. One of the things that people often say about reading the book is that it makes life seem a lot less scary to them. I just think again, it’s because it’s such a simple way through life, to do these simple things. It gives you tools.
Robyn: That’s really helpful, and I want to ask you to maybe walk us through a few of the habits. You can also be your own worst enemy. If you’re worrying about everything, and if everything is a struggle, and if you’re not able to sift the big things from the small things, then you’re in your own way. Am I right?
Kristine: Yeah, no, that’s so true. I mean the beauty of not sweating the small stuff is it frees up all of your focus to your creativity. Let’s face it, I mean whether you’re going to solve problems in your life, or you’re going to put your energy into your work, or your family, whatever it is, it all takes an insurmountable amount of energy and creativity in order to do all of those things. When you’re not focused on things that don’t matter, you have all that you need, and all the energy you need to focus really on what does matter to you. I think that is the core principle of this series. That it just teaches you how to keep life in perspective.
His earlier work is actually the basis of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff series. He wrote several books, and they were more psychology oriented. They were called, “You can be Happy no Matter what,” “Stop Thinking Start Living,” “Shortcut Through Therapy,” “You Can Feel Good Again.” There was a whole bunch of them, and they of course became best sellers after Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff came out. That’s what I like to refer people to if they really want to know the principles that are written about in the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff book series. Go back to his earlier work and you can be happy no matter what.
There’s five principles. The first, he used to have the subtitle was, “The five principles your therapist never told you,” but they’ve sense changed that. I love that subtitle, but they’ve sensed changed that because therapists now do talk so much about these principles. They changed the subtitle to being, “The five principles to keeping life in perspective.” If you look at these five principles, which they are thoughts, moods, feelings, separate realities, and present moment living.
They pretty much are woven throughout all of the books. You can kind of get a sense of that once you start to really think about those principles. You can see how he weaves those throughout all of, they’re somewhere in each kind of chapter. There’s a theme of thread of those. They’re really powerful. They’re so simple, but they’re very powerful. Of course this was 20 years ago, and even 30 years ago, and when he was speaking on these things. Which was very pioneering to the field of psychology.
Robyn: Yeah, that was some very cutting edge thinking, and probably felt sort of critical, or could have felt sort of critical to the profession. That’s okay, because criticizing your profession helps it up level. Just like really examining our own loves helps us up level. You have so many books, you and he do. Will you tell me your best titles, and will you tell us, of the Carlson body of work, we want to start with your best three books, which one’s should we buy?
Kristine: Well for sure buy, “You can be Happy no Matter What,” and for sure buy, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” Then I think, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love,” is probably my favorite book that Richard and I wrote together. Then, I mean I love, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Women,” but I wrote that like 15 years ago. Then I wrote, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Mom’s,” about in April of 2012. That was the first book to be added to the Don’t Sweat series since Richard had, since he transitioned. I like to say the word, “Transitioned.” I don’t like the word, “Died.” I don’t ever feel like he died. Then I don’t like, “Passed,” even though that’s the common way of saying it.
I like to say, “We went through our transition in December 2006.”
Robyn: Well that is, that is hopeful. It’s also very modern, and I kind of dig it. I’ll try to use the right language if we should happen to refer to that event.
Kristine: Those are just the things that I say. No, there’s no right way to say it actually. I mean, it’s just what I feel comfortable with.
Robyn: Yeah, no it’s good. We’re starting to heard that language even more. I think it appeals to those of us who have a lot of belief in energies. Some people believe in subsequent lives, and people believe that this is not the end. We don’t get buried and that’s the end of us, which makes perfect sense when you think about how remarkable the … I mean, it’s almost just mind blowing, the message that Richard was spending years of his life. He was on an airplane out promoting, and then he really drove it home for all of us, and still wish that didn’t happen. I just think that it makes his message fly faster. I’m sorry that it had to happen that way, but I also think that you have a legacy that’s so much bigger than both of you.
Tell us a few of the habits from Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, will you? That mean a lot to you.
Kristine: Well, I like to think of the ones that really stand out for me. Of course I love the whole theme about living presently, you know? I eluded to the fact that I wasn’t living as presently when Richard was alive, and that I really learned that through his death that living in the present moment was the safest place to live. It was, you know, I would be in too much pain if I looked at my past, and I’d have a lot of regret. If I looked to my future I’d be too afraid. I practiced living presently and realized that was really one of his core teachings. Oprah had always said that Richard was the one who taught her how to live presently. I think when you say it was very apropos the way he left us, it really was. I mean, he really did talk a lot about not putting things off that you really care about, doing them now, and not putting them off to a later date.
The other thing I think that was really profound, which always impacted me greatly, was that life isn’t an emergency. That we don’t need to treat life as if it’s a fight or flight, amygdala response to everything situation, we’re on edge and reactive to life. I think when we’re able to take a golden pause, take a breath in between feeling agitated, then we become a lot more responsive to life and less reactive. We can treat life less like an emergency. That’s the other thing that really has impacted me on a great level.
I love the chapter, “See the Extraordinary in the Ordinary … Or the Ordinary.” I don’t have a book right in front of me so I’m going by my memory. The gist of that chapter.
Robyn: It’s, “The Extraordinary and the Ordinary,” yes.
Kristine: Yes, there you go. The gist of that is really as you slow down and you wake up to your life, and you’re really present, the small things really do become extraordinary. Even the most ordinary of days, and the most ordinary of moments, can become extraordinary. Richard told a story often, and it was that … A simple story. He was waiting for one of his best friends who kept him waiting for a long time. He was standing outside, and Richard who didn’t have a lot of extra time sometimes, really relished his moments of not having anything to do. His friend raced up, was 20 minutes late. Raced up to Richard and said, “Oh my God Richard, I’m so sorry I’m late.” Richard just goes, “Oh my God, look at this beautiful day. Do you feel that breeze? Do you see that tree?” He’s like, “You’re not late, I’ve been fully enjoying myself.”
I think that’s the thing that can happen when you take on, it doesn’t matter how busy we are, but when you take on that attitude, you can really begin to notice that even an ordinary day’s extraordinary. That just takes slowing life down for me inside, so that you can be really present to your life.
Robyn: I feel like one of the reasons why I just grieved when I learned this news shortly after I read the book, is that I felt like he talked in the book almost like he knew this would happen, like that he wouldn’t have all the time in the world. He seemed really at a precocious age, pretty young. People start thinking in their 60’s and 70’s about, “Oh my gosh, I ought to drop my work and look even my adult child in the eye, and drop everything, and just be in the present moment in a relationship. This is the good stuff. This is the good stuff right here, the relationship.” He wrote so much about that, that it’s almost like it was prescient, like he knew. Did you ever feel like that?
Kristine: You know, I did, especially after he gave me that letter. I did think that, and especially after he … He did die young. I feel like he did, there is something maybe to that with him. You know, okay, so on a deeper level I just feel like we do, some of us are conscious enough to know that we may have a shorter life than most people. His was really sudden, there wasn’t any great health problem that we knew about or anything. I just think sometimes the soul knows, you know? The soul really knows.
I used to say, I loved him so much, and with my whole heart and soul. I always felt like the luckiest woman to be chosen by him. He was truly an extraordinary man. I mean, he was so kind, and compassionate, and gentle. In 25 years of being together we had three arguments and they were all due to my PMS. We never argued. He was just so generous in every capacity of how he was able to love. I used to say, “God, loving Richard a lifetime wont be long enough.” I must have said that saying, I mean from the moment I met him. “Loving this man a lifetime will not be enough.”
Well, I don’t know if it’s be careful of what you say, or we both knew on some level that somehow we would have this amazing life together, and somehow we would … I do believe Richard and I had a soul contract, I really do. This was so significant to my growth, and to my soul growth, this loss. That I feel that we must have had this sort of preconceived notion that this was how it was going to go down.
Robyn: You know, I have so many regrets about how I lived my early life, and how I lived in my marriage, and how I raised my children. A favorite hobby of mine is to beat myself up about my parenting, and any deficits there. It’s really meaningful to me that the two of you walked your talk, and that you probably have few regrets about the way you conducted yourself in your marriage. Thank you for walking your talk. I want to ask you one final question. That is, you mentioned gifts in the loss. It struck me so much, I wrote it down. Tell me one gift in the loss of your amazing husband.
Kristine: It really happened, it was really Oprah that drove home something that I’d already been journaling about. I wrote a book called, “Heart Broken Open, a memoir through loss to self discovery,” after Richard transitioned. That was really taken from my journal from that first year. In my journal I wrote, “Oh my God, I’ve been heart broken open to feeling my life, and feeling it so profoundly, so deeply, so awake.” I think that’s what I’ve learned, is it really brought me into being even more the woman that I was meant to be. You know, I just think sometimes it’s very innocent what can happen to us. We can be lulled into the complacency of success, we can become more inhabiting in our roles of life, and that’s certainly what happened to me. I felt that my world contribution was really, even though I had authored a couple of books by the time Richard had died, I still felt that my contribution was in holding space for him to do his work for the world.
He was always pulling me up and saying, “No Kris, you’re a writer. Come up, come up. come do this with me.” I would be like, “No honey, you do it. We’ve got the kids to raise, I’ll do this. You do this. I’ll be a great wife, I’ll be a great mother. You do the author thing.” I think when I had to do everything, I sort of grew into who I really am. I think he always saw who I really was. I just was reticent, and hesitant to really step into that in my full power when he was alive. Life gives us all that we need. It sure gave me what I needed to step in. I’m glad to say, and I’m happy to say, and I’m honored to say that I stepped in.
Robyn: Well, your great testament to resilience, and I bet you’ve learned a lot about that.
Kristine: Oh my gosh, yes I have. Definitely I’ve learned and spoken a lot about resilience over the years for sure. That’s a whole other podcast interview.
Robyn: Right? It is, but I hope that my audience checks you out. I think that there’s going to be a lot of Googling of Richard and Kristine Carlson for those who didn’t know your work before. Thank you again for your impact, not only on my life, but on my life’s work.
Kristine: It’s been an honor and a pleasure to speak to you Robyn. You’re a delight. I can surely see how your brand, and your podcast is so wildly popular. You carry on an amazing conversation, and I just enjoyed this immensely.
Robyn: Thank you, thank you. Oh my friends, wasn’t that fantastic? That was the great Kristine Carlson, and her husbands name is Richard Carlson. Another book he put me onto years ago that I read, that I want to put in the show notes for you is, “How to Stop Worrying, and Start Living,” by Dale Carnegie. There’s another book in addition to, “You can be Happy no Matter What,” and, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and it’s all Small Stuff.” Of course Kristine’s favorite work of her own that she mentioned to us is, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in Love.” For those of you in a relationship, those of you who have a partner or are married, that seems like a really great read.
Go check out the show notes, and the freebies, and the references for you there at GreenSMoothieGirl.com/Episode18. Thank you so much for being with us, and go live your high vibration life. See you next time.