You Can Be Happy
No Matter What
Richard Carlson

I didn't have any real major issues with this book--but I also didn't come away from it feeling that I had learned anything new and different.  I didn't feel that Carlson had addressed anything that hasn't been addressed in many other works by many other authors, and in fact, I felt that it could have been titled something like "Happiness Comes from Within," or something similar, because that's his major focus:  that happiness (or unhappiness) is a result of our thoughts, moods, and feelings.  He gives us five principles that supposedly determine whether or not we're happy, and he gives us true and hypothetical real-life situations that shows how people feel when they don't follow these principles, and when they do follow them.

An issue that I always have with Carlson is that he always seems to over-simplify on the side of generalities.  For example, one section of one chapter is titled "Your Mood Changes, Not Your Life."  This statement is fine for what it is, but he doesn't seem to respect those truly life-changing moments and situations in which a person has to dig very, very deeply just to survive, much less thrive and be happy.  In fact, the whole premise of the book tends to diminish the relevance and importance of many of the true difficulties that we face.  I get the idea that he hasn't lived through many of the trials that his readers have lived through, and thus doesn't understand how they can be brought down by those problems.  At times, the book feels like simply a "Don't Worry, Be Happy" approach to psychology.

That said, there are many, many important ideas and principles to be found here.  There's very little that's new or different, but they are together in one place for a quick read that can be very helpful to someone who isn't familiar with this type of material.  For someone who's done a lot of reading in this area, you probably won't find much here that will affect you; if you're just starting out reading in the self-help/self-awareness field, this is a good synthesis of material that's been proved to be helpful to people who are having difficulties feeling happy.

Part one of the book introduces the principles, and part two is titled "Applying the Principles."  In this section he addresses relationships, stress, solving problems, happiness, and habits and addictions.  Again in this section, Carlson tends to generalize and oversimplify, as in, "stress is not something that 'happens to us,' but rather something that develops from within our own thinking."  The implication is that if I'm feeling stress today, then it's my doing, even though many situations arise in my life to which I don't contribute at all.  The student who's acting up in my class isn't doing so because of my thoughts.  And yes, how I react to that stress is up to me, but the stress itself has an outside origin.

All in all, a decent read, but not one I feel compelled to revisit any time soon.

The five principles are:
1.  The principle of thought
2.  The principle of moods
3.  The principle of separate realities
4.  The principle of feelings
5.  The principle of the present moment.
Our rating:  C+
Amazon rating (October, 2012):  4.3 of 5 (80 reviews)

An excerpt from "The Principle of Moods":

Our Moods Are Always Changing

People don't realize their moods are always on the run.  They think instead that their life has suddenly become worse in the past day, or the last hour.  Take the example of a client who came to me initially because he perceived himself to have serious relationship problems with his wife.  He came to my office on two consecutive days.  On the first day he was glowing, even bragging, about how much fun he'd had with his wife over the weekend.  As he described it, they had laughed, played, talked, and taken romantic walks.  Clearly, he was in a high mood.  The next day he came in complaining about the lack of gratitude he felt from his wife for all he was doing for her.  "She never appreciates anything I do," he said.  "She is the most ungrateful person I've ever met."

"What about yesterday?" I asked.  "Weren't you telling me how wonderful everything was between you?"

"I was, but I was dead wrong.  I was deceiving myself and have been for our entire marriage.  I think I want a divorce."

Such a quick and complete contrast may seem absurd, even funny--but we're all like that.  In low moods we lose our ability to listen, and our perspective flies out the window.  Life seems serious, important, and urgent.

Moods Are Part of the Human Condition

Moods are a human condition.  You can't avoid them.  You aren't going to stop changing moods by reading this book--that can't happen.  What can happen is that you can understand that moods are a part of being human.  Rather than staying stuck in a low mood, convinced you are seeing life realistically, you can learn to question your judgment when you're in this state.  You will always see life and the events in it differently, in different moods.  When you are in a low mood, learn to pass it off as simply that:  an unavoidable human condition that will pass with time, if you leave it alone and avoid giving it too much attention.

With an understanding of moods, we can learn to be appreciative of our highs and graceful in our lows.  This contrasts sharply with what most of us do in a low mood--where we try to think, figure, or force our way out of it.  But you can't force your way out of a low mood any more than you can force yourself to have a good time doing something you don't like.  The more force (or thought) you put into it, the lower you sink. . . . When we understand the power that our moods have on our perspective, we will no longer need to react to or be victims of them.  Things will eventually appear to us very differently if we just let them be, for now.