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Review of "The Five Things We Cannot Change ..."

By David Richo
Shambhala, 2006
Review by Beth T. Cholette, Ph.D. on Oct 2nd 2007
The Five Things We Cannot Change ...

In this book, author David Richo offers the premise that there are five "givens" of human existence:  1) everything changes and ends, 2) things do not always go according to plan, 3) life is not always fair, 4) pain is a part of life, and 5) people are not loving or loyal all the time.  Because we are all powerless over these givens, Richo suggests that we must embrace them with an "unconditional yes."  He argues that by facing life's unchangeable facts head on, these givens become graces rather than curses, with health and happiness flowing from this.  In the first half of the book, Richo addresses each of the five givens one-by-one, breaking down more traditional ways of looking at these life challenges and urging the reader over and over to confront these challenges with an affirmative.  Part Two goes into a bit more detail about how to actually go about the process of saying yes unconditionally.  Here Richo relies largely on Buddhist traditions such as mindfulness (awareness of the here-and-now), loving-kindness, and Tonglen meditation.  He talks specifically about embracing the four major feelings (sadness, anger, fear, and exuberance) as well as the psychological, spiritual, and mystical self.  In the Epilogue, Richo expands further on human graces and how these lead to the sense of a "protecting presence" in our lives.

Although this book is written by a psychotherapist and is classified as "Psychology/Self-Help," readers seeking a true self-help manual are likely to be disappointed.  Rather, Richo's work is more philosophical in nature, with a strong emphasis on Buddhist teachings.  He practically beats the reader over the head with his repetition of the "unconditional yes" message, yet beyond recommending the practice of mindfulness/meditation, he offers little advice on how to practically apply this principle to one's life.  So, although the book is interesting from in terms of philosophy, it is less useful from a self-help perspective.  Furthermore, the more theoretical aspect of the book is marred by the author's over-reliance on quotes.  Every chapter begins with a quoted passage, but citations from theologians, ancient texts, poets, philosophers, and others also appear relentlessly throughout the text, to the extent that one begins to wonder whether the author has any unique points to make.  I found Richo to be at his best when he did offer his own opinion in the form of more helpful counsel.  For example, in the chapter "People are Not Loving and Loyal All the Time," Richo provides a useful checklist which describes qualities of adult relationships followed by a second valuable checklist on boundaries in relationships.  Unfortunately, these particular concepts appear to be based on his previous book, How to Be an Adult in Relationships, which I suspect is much more true to the self-help genre.

I am sure this book will have its fans amongst those who view the pursuit of happiness as more spiritual in nature.  However, for the average American browsing through the self-help offerings in search of a more concrete path to finding happiness, this largely conceptual work is likely to have little value.

© 2007 Beth Cholette

Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students at SUNY Geneseo.  She is also a Top 100 Reviewer at Amazon.com and the official yoga media reviewer for iHanuman.com.