Book Review: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

My parents had a copy of Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People on our bookshelf at home, which meant that I started reading it as soon as I was old enough to want to learn how to make friends (and later, to influence people).

However, I did not know until a few weeks ago that Carnegie had written a sequel of sorts: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Overall, I think it’s the better book.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some excellent insights in How to Win Friends—but some of those tips, like “a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language,” are now so well-known that they’ve lost their impact. (We’re all familiar with the overly solicitous person who inserts our name into sentences just a little too often.)

How to Win Friends is also a book about how to get other people to respond in a certain way, which, you know, you can’t really do. You can be kind to people. You can be interested in what they have to say, and try to see the world from their perspective. You can even say their name when you greet them.

But you can’t, like, control their behavior or their feelings. The only emotions and actions you’re in charge of are your own.

Which brings me to How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

The first lesson, “Live in Day-Tight Compartments,” was exactly what I needed to read at that very moment. “By all means take thought for the tomorrow, yes, careful thought and planning and preparation,” Carnegie writes. “But have no anxiety.”

He’s referring to the portion of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount which reads “Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (The English Standard Version of the Bible translates this last as “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” which I like a little better.)

This wisdom is not unique to Jesus; Carnegie explains that philosophers in Greece and India (and, assumedly, the rest of the world) have said much the same thing. “Tomorrow, do thy worst, for I have liv’d today,” wrote Horace—and so on.

If you’re still worried about what tomorrow might bring, Carnegie offers a “magic formula” for addressing this worry:

1. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can possibly happen?”

2. Prepare to accept it if you have to.

3. Then calmly proceed to improve on the worst.

What else can we do, really?

If we’re having trouble with the “calmly proceeding” part, Carnegie has tips and formulas to help us start taking those first small actions that will help us improve upon whatever unresolved situation is currently occupying our thoughts. If we’re having trouble sleeping because we can’t stop thinking about what tomorrow might bring, Carnegie has advice for that as well.

This book is not about ignoring your worries or procrastinating on the kind of stuff that could become worrying later on. It is refreshingly realistic, in the sense that it acknowledges that much of what we worry about is genuine. Sure, those imagined scenarios rarely transpire exactly the way we imagine, but if your thoughts or your emotions are nudging at you to pay attention to something, there’s probably a good reason to pay attention to it.

But there’s not a good reason to worry about it—which, in this context, means perseverating without addressing the problem.

So use these tools to stop worrying and start living. Accept that the worst may come, calmly proceed to improve upon the worst, and take life one day at a time. ❤️

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