Stop Thinking, Start Living
Book by Richard Carlson
Revolutionary in its simplicity and accessible to all, this bestselling book offers commonsense methods that allow you to let go of depression and tap into natural joy.
In this indispensable handbook, Richard Carlson demonstrates how we can change everything in our lives – earn more money, meet new friends, get a new job – yet still feel dissatisfied. Happiness, he says, is not ‘out there’ but within, a state of mind that is independent of circumstance: ‘If you begin to see that your thoughts are not the real thing – they’re just thoughts and as thoughts they can’t hurt you – your entire life will begin to change today.’
Carlson’s step-by-step guide explains:
• How your thoughts determine how you feel.
• Why thinking about problems only makes them worse.
• That thoughts come and go – you are free to choose at any moment which to hold on to and which to let go.
• Straightforward methods for conquering depression.
• How to dismiss negative thoughts and discover inner contentment.
• How to overcome lifelong pessimism and start really living.
Before we provide you with a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book, we feel that it’s necessary to make a few terminological distinctions regarding a few words we will probably use quite often below:
- Mind: the intelligence behind all life;
• Consciousness: being aware of your existence;
• Thought: the thing which helps you interpret reality;
• Reality: the actual objective reality, regardless of how you interpret it.
Chapter 1: Possibilities
According to Richard Carlson, “happiness is a moment-to-moment choice that each of us makes. In order to be happy, you must first decide to be happy.”
It may sound strange at first, but it actually works that way.
When you make a commitment to happiness, you are in effect saying: ‘There is so much in life that I can’t control – the world, other people and their choices and reactions, accidents, imperfections, suffering, hardships. Yet this is my life, and regardless of what happens, I’m going to be happy.’
If you don’t believe us, just think of all those sudden shifts in your consciousness when, despite the external stimuli remaining the same, you suddenly start feeling a lot better.
James Joyce called these epiphanies, and Carlson refers to them as “changes of heart.”
Either way, they are not intrinsically related to the reality of the external world; and therein lie all the possibilities of happiness.
Chapter 2: Your Thoughts and the Way You Feel
We are all constantly thinking.
Try to grasp the reality behind this, because, most probably, you are not aware of it: even when you’re trying not to think, you are actually thinking; that’s why meditation is both a science and an art and that’s why Carlson compares thinking to breathing.
Now, don’t get us wrong: thinking constantly is a good thing; it can be an even better one if you are aware of the fact what thinking actually is.
You may better understand what it is if you understand what it is not; and it is certainly not the real world around you.
In other words, no matter how convinced you are in something, that doesn’t make it true; the very fact that there’s someone else who’s convinced into something quite the opposite leaves a lot of space for reasonable doubt.
You’ve thought of thinking as a process similar to breathing in terms of its automatic nature, and now you should think of thinking as a process similar to dreaming in terms of its reality. Though both are essentially the same, for some reason, we think of dreaming as something false and of our thoughts as something necessarily right.
Why is it important to understand that what you think about something has no effect on that something?
Because that way you’ll understand that your feelings are an illusion as well; because they are actually formed by your thoughts.
If you think that the loss of your favorite football team grants the anger it produces, then you’ll be angry; if however, you think that it’s just a trivial event, life should go on as usual.
Remember: you don’t feel reality; you feel your thought interpreting reality.
Chapter 3: Healthy Psychological Functioning
According to Richard Carlson, healthy psychological functioning is our natural state – and it is a state of perfect equilibrium and absolute happiness.
Then why are we feeling so sad from time to time?
Because we’ve acquired, through our lives, a set of behaviors which have raised a wall between ourselves and our “healthy psychological functioning.”
Now, the only thing we can do to get back on track is to dig deep beneath these layers and understand the reality of our natural state.
Just as you can’t really understand light by studying the dark, you’ll never understand happiness by examining the unhealthy psychological functioning of your brain.
The starting point?
Dismissing your thoughts.
Chapter 4: Dismissing Thoughts
If you realize halfway through a movie that it’s a bad one, you do the most reasonable thing you can: you turn it off; life is just too short to waste it on bad movies.
Well, the same should be true with your thoughts: so many of them are bad thoughts, and yet, since you firmly believe that they are yours, instead of freeing yourself from them, you let them imprison you in their negativity.
The truth is – you can dismiss any thought you like: you’ve created it, and you have the power to destroy it.
It isn’t time which heals all wounds; it is the dismissal of negative thoughts which fade away over time.
Speed up the process, and you’ll heal faster.
Or you may not even get hurt in the first place.
Chapter 5: Wisdom
Your mind serves you in essentially two different ways: either it is a “computer,” or a “transmitter.”
The first way of thinking is memory-based and is called processing; the latter one is insight-based and is the creative, free-flowing mode of your thinking habits.
Now, the problem is that while knowledge (the ability to solve familiar problems) exists within your processing brain, wisdom lies out of the reach of your processing mind and somewhere deep inside your free-flowing mode of thinking.
Let’s put it this way: you would never expect from a computer to solve your dating problems, would you?
Well, apparently, that’s what you do most of the time: you use memory to solve new and unique problems and get stuck within them, thus creating a new thought-related problem:
Wise people throughout history have been those who saw that while life is real, life’s problems are an illusion, they are thought-created. These people know that we manufacture and blow problems way out of proportion through our own ability to think. They also know that if we can step outside the boundaries of our own thinking, we can find the answer we are looking for. This, in a nutshell, is wisdom: the ability to see an answer without having to think of an answer. Wisdom is the ‘ah ha, that’s so obvious’ experience most of us have had many times. Few people seem to understand that this voice is always available to us.
Want knowledge? Then use your biological computer.
Want wisdom? Just turn it off.
Chapter 6: Thoughts Grow with Attention
Remember the ending of American Beauty?
Of course, you do.
Let us remind you of Lester Burnham’s final words:
I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about I’m sure, but don’t worry, you will someday.
We feel that that movie and this quote explain the title and the contents of this chapter better than anything.
And are the perfect background for Carlson’s golden rule of happiness: “it’s impossible to feel gratitude for something when you are too busy trying to improve it.”
Chapter 7: Thought Systems
The problem why there are so many misunderstandings in this world is quite simple: every single being on this planet thinks differently.
These thoughts, in time, create thought systems which you can best imagine as kind of maps of reality; however, just like two people with different maps would never agree as to which is the right direction, people with two different thought systems would never reach a compromise over something.
If you want to live a happier life, you need to accept something which is a fact: your thought map is just one map of the world and, just like all others, it isn’t a perfect map.
Your job is to be open-minded and, thus, constantly improve it: not to go around and look for proofs that it is the correct one.
Chapter 8: Choice Points
“Life can be seen as a continuing series of ‘choice points,’” writes Richard Carlson. “The sum of our decisions regarding the direction we take with our choice points will determine, to a very large extent, the way we feel.”
Carlson defines “a choice point” is “an isolated moment in time when you have an opportunity to choose between your healthy functioning (the path of love and contentment) and the path of ‘thinking it through.’”
Here’s his chart of what this means in real-world situations:
|Path of Love (Healthy Functioning)||Path of Thinking It Through|
|Seeing the truth and moving on||Trying to ‘get to the bottom’|
|Choosing love and forgiveness||Choosing anger|
|Not dwelling on the issue||Dwelling on the issue|
|Happiness rather than being right||Being right is important|
|Letting go||Hanging on|
|Thinking is light and diffuse||Thinking is complicated|
|Little or no analysis||Thorough analysis|
|It’s OK||It’s not OK|
|I don’t need to get into it||I need to get into it|
|It’s OK that we disagree||I need to prove myself|
|No need to have a firm opinion||I must express my opinion|
Even though sometimes you’ll have no option but to take the Path of Thinking It Through, the key to a happy life is taking the Path of Love as often as possible.
Chapter 9: The Thinking Habit
True, habits are difficult to break, and few are more difficult than the habit of thinking negatively; but it is not impossible.
Thinking negatively is always the wrong choice; because your thoughts govern your feelings and because your feelings are how you experience reality, negative thinking is a surefire way to depression.
On average, over 90 percent of the thinking of Carlson’s patients is negative.
How does he know this?
Because he asks his patients – as the first step toward recovery – to start paying attention to their negative thoughts and start writing them down.
An awareness of how much they control their own happiness.
Chapter 10: Moods
“There has never been, nor will there ever be, a person who doesn’t experience the ups and downs of moods,” writes Richard Carlson. “Even the happiest person isn’t immune to them.”
Sometimes, just a simple shift in your mood is all it takes for the world to suddenly look much brighter than before; unfortunately, this holds true in the opposite case as well.
And no matter how perfect your thinking habits are, your moods are inevitable biological products of the way your body functions.
The trick to remaining happy is this: don’t think too much while in a low mood; just like in a broken mirror, everything is distorted and inaccurate then.
A happy person isn’t a person who doesn’t have ups and downs; a happy person is a person who knows that both of these conditions are temporary.
Chapter 11: Living in the Present Moment
“Perhaps the oldest and wisest piece of advice for escaping depression and living a happier life,” writes Carlson here and elsewhere, “is to live in the present moment.”
However, even though many would agree that this is great advice, very few adhere to it.
The problem is twofold: very few people actually understand their thinking habits and even fewer the power of their own moods.
Be one of them and start appreciating the Now.
Because it is not just a metaphor that it’s all you have.
Chapter 12: Life Is Like a Pendulum
“An excellent way to understand where unhappiness exists in your mind and, more important, how to overcome it,” writes Richard Carlson, “is to study the following chart.”
|Healthy Functioning||Analytical Mind|
|Living moment to moment||Living in the past or future|
|Focus is on enjoyment||Focus is on how life could be improved|
|Mind is clear and free||Mind is full of worry and concern|
|Seeing the innocence||Seeing the evil|
|Focusing on the beauty of life||Focusing on the ugliness|
|Happy with what is||Obsessed with what could be better|
|Experiencing life||Analyzing life|
|Letting go||Hanging on|
|Flowing thinking||Computer thinking|
|Focusing on what you can do||Focusing on what you can’t do|
|Learning from mistakes and going on||Dwelling on mistakes and repeating them|
|Open and accepting||Closed and prejudiced|
|Positive attitude||Negative attitude|
The key to happiness isn’t blindly following the left side above; it is discrediting the right side (your analytical mind) when it is not producing happiness.
How would you know when to do this?
It’s simple: just follow your feelings.
Chapter 13: Mental Health and the Dynamics of Unhappiness
You know how a couple starts acting differently the moment it accepts the fact that it is a couple?
Well, the same happens to you when you label yourself an unhappy person.
Suddenly, a trivial event such as the loss of a clock is followed by questions such as “Why me?” and, even worse, potential joyful events are joined by doubt and anxiety which, in turn, oil the mechanism of the dreaded self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
The only way to counter this is to rip the “unhappy” label as a band-aid and start seeing yourself as you do the people around you.
News flash: you are almost certainly not that different from them.
Chapter 14: Grief and Loss
Sometimes, some events are objectively negative; it is inevitable that, at some point in your life, you’ll have to deal with a broken relationship and, at another, even with the loss of a loved one.
We don’t need to tell you that grief is normal in these circumstances; however, we do feel the need to point out that it is not normal to become imprisoned within the thoughts of grief.
Shut down your biological computer and experience the wisdom of the free-flowing thinking mode; your transmitter-brain will always show you the way to the Option B.
Chapter 15: Illness and Death
In a way, this chapter is a continuation of the previous one.
You can’t feel well if you are physically sick, and you certainly cannot feel joy if you need to accept the death of a loved one.
However, utilizing the power of your natural state – the state of healthy psychological functioning – is still the best thing you got.
It both clears and opens your mind to new possibilities.
And that, in some situations, is enough in itself.
Chapter 16: Many Problems, One Solution
We’ve already introduced you to the concept of analysis paralysis.
Carlson describes it thus:
[Analysis paralysis] is a situation in which a person wishing to solve a problem uses repeated and intense deliberation in the hope of coming up with a viable solution. This is where you try to figure out, make sense of, and most specifically, analyze your problems. The major problem with analysis, however, is that as you think excessively about a problem, your problem-orientated thoughts will begin to lower your spirits. And, as we have seen, if there is one certainty in life it is this: when your spirits are low, your wisdom and common sense fly out of the window. You simply aren’t at your best, and you don’t see life clearly when you are feeling low. Since your feelings follow your thoughts, the more attention and emphasis you put on a problem, the worse you will feel and the less wisdom you will have access to.
In the words of Einstein, “The solution to a problem will never come about from the same level of understanding that created the problem in the first place.”
And put plainly: “if you can’t solve a problem in a positive state of mind, you will never be able to solve that problem in a lower state of mind.”
Chapter 17: Unhappiness Is Your Curriculum
Remember the opening sentence of Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Carlson rephrases Tolstoy thus: “Every person has a curriculum, and every curriculum can be overcome and conquered.” Obviously, unlike Tolstoy, Carlson is a bit more optimistic.
And he thinks he has a reason for this!
After all, he says, no matter what kind of problems you go through, the Holocaust survivors certainly went through much bigger and more unbearable ones.
And yet – many of them overcame and conquered them.
What’s your excuse?
Chapter 18: The Art of Optimism
Many books have been written about the power of positive thinking; this is, of course, no accident: “negative thinking gets us nowhere,” writes Carlson, “except perhaps a one-way ticket to the emotional doldrums!”
Optimism is not something you’re born with – it’s something you can become. And it’s not even difficult to do that!
You just need to recognize the fact that you are not your thoughts and that you are force-feeding your feelings with negativity willingly.
Next, you need to understand that you are just one thought away from a good feeling.
Finally, you can start thinking positively and, gradually, start changing your feelings as well.
Chapter 19: Happiness and Gratitude
Just like Janice Kaplan, Richard Carlson too thinks that gratitude is attitude – and one which is so powerful that it works as the best “antidote for depression.”
Just like Lester Burnham (see Chapter 6 above), you need to start feeling gratitude for every single moment of your stupid, little life.
Because it’s not stupid.
And because is literally everything you have.
Key Lessons from “Stop Thinking, Start Living”
- There Is a Difference Between the Reality and Your Thoughts and Feelings
2. Your Natural State Is the State of Happiness
3. Use Your Analytical Brain Less to Be Happier
There Is a Difference Between the Reality and Your Thoughts and Feelings
Even though it may seem strange to you, your thoughts and your feelings are not indicators of the real, objective reality, aka the world as it is; they are just an interpretation of it and nothing more.
This is the reason why there are so many misunderstandings and problems in the world: everyone believes that his thoughts and feelings are the only possible interpretation when numerous are true; even though they are mutually exclusive.
Your Natural State Is the State of Happiness
You are born to be happy: your natural state is the state of healthy psychological functioning.
However, throughout life, you spend a lot of time struggling against this notion and believing that, in fact, the opposite is true.
If you want to live a happy life, you need to realize that happiness is not something you must attain, but something you only need to retain.
Use Your Analytical Brain Less to Be Happier
Speaking of which: a great way of retaining happiness is letting go of things.
Namely, if your natural state is the state of healthy psychological functioning, then everything else is waste.
To get rid of it, from time to time, feel free to press the off button of your analytical brain; apparently, too much thinking is bad for both your happiness and your health.
“Stop Thinking, Start Living Quotes”
Once you understand that you are the thinker of your own thoughts, and that your mind doesn‘t produce ‘reality,’ it produces ‘thoughts,’ you won’t be as affected by what you think.
Your thoughts can’t hurt or depress you once you understand that they are just thoughts.
If you can begin to see that your thoughts are not the real thing – they’re just thoughts, and as thoughts they can’t hurt you – your entire life will begin to change today.
Your thoughts always create your emotions. Understanding the significance of this fact is the first step in escaping from unhappiness and depression.
There is no ‘way to happiness.’ Happiness is the way. Happiness is a feeling that you tap into, not an outcome of events.