Richard Carlson’s You Can Be Happy No Matter What: Five Principles for Keeping Life in Perspective is, first and foremost, what may be called a highly accessible text on enhancing the individual’s potential to experience contentment, no matter their life circumstances. This is a book to be recommended to patients because, not only are the content and the five chief principles discussed rational and logical, Carlson presents his thinking in a way that is extremely readable. He seems to deliberately avoid complex language and concepts; this is very much about reaching the ordinary person, and the author’s style and language work together to present ideas easily understood. If the book is not then a scholarly work, it nonetheless fully fulfills Carlson’s clear ambition to connect to the lay reader.
Then, and as noted, the principles espoused by the author are emotionally sound and psychologically valid. Carlson’s ultimate philosophy is expressed early in the book, and is supported by the principles he presents. Individuals tend to perceive that the external world dictates their level of happiness, and that state of being is often a pursuit reserved for a better-constructed future. They believe they will be truly happy when, for example, the new job is secured or the bills are paid. The true reality, however, is very different: “In reality, it isn’t the circumstances, but our interpretation of them that determines our level of well-being” (Carlson 21). This is in fact the guiding principle behind all of Carlson’s ideology, and his thrust lies in encouraging readers to comprehend how easily they surrender their own abilities to perceive and think in ways that will promote their happiness.
To begin with, Carlson explores the nature of thinking and its inestimable power to create emotion. Logically, he notes, citing philosopher William James, that feeling and emotional states are direct consequences of thought processes. It is, for example, impossible to experience jealous and negative emotion without first thinking that there is cause for jealousy (12). Nonetheless, thinking, as Carlson sees it, is one of the least understood functions of human existence. Our minds, he contends, apply the function of thought constantly, in order to make sense of the world around us and all we experience within it. Moreover, the relationship between thought, which may here also be termed conscious perception, is by no means a matter of lengthy processes.
The immediate thought, for example, that the employer does not appreciate the individual may pass in the mind within a moment, and then create the corresponding unhappy emotion. Then, and importantly, Carlson reinforces the need to understand how the fact that we produce our own thinking enables empowerment over perception, and consequently how we feel based upon what we think: “Thought is not something that happens to us, but something that we do” (13). This is critical, in terms of working toward a state of contentment. We may in fact examine our thoughts as they occur, assess their basis in actual reality, understand that our thought perceptions are unclear, and free ourselves from reflexes of negative feeling.
Regarding the importance of moods, Carlson is unequivocal. More exactly, he reiterates how mood itself, which is a continually shifting state of mind, is permitted by people to determine how they perceive their circumstances and consequently experience happiness or discontent. In simple language, Carlson relates the basic reality that, when we are in a high mood state, happiness is encouraged because we are seeing the world in a positive way. Conversely, reality perception is altered in a negative manner when, for whatever reason, our mood is low. Interestingly, and as the author emphasizes, people tend to mistake mood for the reality, nor appreciate how varied and shifting moods usually are. People, he maintains, do not appreciate how their moods are inevitably changing and, when things seem bad,: 典hey think instead that their life has suddenly become worse in the past day, or the last hour�(36).
It is then necessary that people comprehend the subtle power of mood and recognize that this is what is creating the negative sense of their lives. This recognition in place, a new perspective emerges, and there is a greater sense of the reality apart from the mood, which in turn is likely to elevate the mood. As may be obvious, all of this is linked to thought as well. The running theme of the book, in fact, goes to comprehending our own abilities to not permit thinking or mood to create our senses of happiness. To his credit, and despite the simplicity of the language, Carlson does not make much reference to personal empowerment, which would reflect a regrettable 鍍rendiness.�Nonetheless, that is the foundation espoused here, as it is only rational that individuals be accountable for their degrees of well-being emotionally.
Equally crucial to this empowerment is comprehending that we each have our own ideas of what reality itself is, and how the world functions. Carlson reinforces the importance of this vehemently, and because the failure to recognize that we are all creatures thinking in individual and biased ways works against attaining happiness: “Not understanding the concept of separate realities can result in constant conflict and frustration”(55). Moreover, this principle is not about biases in the commonly-known idea of the word; rather, it is about the need to appreciate that others are perceiving the world in different ways, and based upon the same modes of background and thinking that create our own senses of reality. Accepting the fact of others as having their own approaches to reality encourages happiness, and because there is less reason to feel that others are behaving wrongly.
Not unexpectedly, the principle of feelings is directly related to that of thought, as well as linked to the concept of separate realities. This is in fact a crucial point, as Carlson’s presentation of this principle affirms the direct relationship between thought and feeling: “The way our feelings work is analogous” (61). Again, it is negative thought alone that may produce negative feeling, and this chapter seems to be in place only to reinforce the other principle. Hen, and even as Carlson desires people to assert control over their thoughts and feelings, he addresses a pragmatic truth as well. If there is in fact a disturbing issue to face, Carlson affirms that the issue will be there no matter how the individual seeks to set aside their concerns over it. What matters here, however, is that feeling better will better equip the person to address the situation (76).
Lastly, Carlson explores the importance of living, thinking, and feeling in the present moment. The neglect of this is all too common, and is a source of unhappiness; as noted, people often look to the future as enabling the happiness they do not then feel, when an appreciation of the present would diffuse such concerns. Thought is often the culprit here, as: “The nature of figuring something out takes you away from the present moment and into thinking, ‘What am I going to do’?” (76). We actually “set up” our own discontent by turning our thoughts toward a past we cannot alter or a future we cannot control, and this denies us the ability to know happiness through embracing the moment lived at the moment.
It must be said that, in modern years, multiple books have been published and are based on instructions to achieve happiness, and Carlson may well be accused of merely adhering to the trend. Nonetheless, there is a great deal to be said for his book. If principles overlap and there is reason to ask the author why he goes to such pains to distinguish principles greatly dependent upon one another, the greater reality is that he consistently offers rational thinking, and presents it in a way fully accessible to any reader. Logic guides this “manual” on achieving happiness, and this in itself is a considerable achievement, as well as cause for recommending the book.