Carlson was born and raised in Piedmont, California.
Carlson published his first book in 1985, but became famous when his Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff became a best seller. "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" topped the bestseller lists for two years. People magazine named Richard Carlson as one of that publication's "Most Intriguing People in the World." He was popular on the talk-show circuit.
Carlson was born and raised in the Bay Area. He grew up in Piedmont, received his bachelor's degree from Pepperdine University and his doctorate in psychology from Sierra University, before opening a private psychotherapy practice.
He wrote many follow-up books to this success, including Slowing Down to the Speed of Life (co-authored with Joe Bailey) in 1997, one co-authored by his wife, Don't Sweat The Small Stuff in Love (2000), and What About the Big Stuff (2002).
Carlson died of a pulmonary embolism during a flight from San Francisco to New York, while on a promotion tour for his book Don’t Get Scrooged: How to Thrive in a World Full of Obnoxious, Incompetent, Arrogant and Downright Mean-Spirited People (2006).