Perfect Timing: ‘Simple Abundance’ Created a ‘Gratitude’ Movement 25 Years Ago

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 I met Sarah Ban Breathnach when she had just sold the zillionth copy of “Simple Abundance.” We became instant friends. In two decades, much has changed in our lives, and nothing has changed in our friendship. Still I’m stunned to realize that it’s been 25 years since “Simple Abundance” was published and ”gratitude” became a thing. Sarah’s updated and revised the book. [To buy the hardcover from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here. To buy the audiobook, recorded by the author, click here. To buy “The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude,” click here.]

No point in me writing about “Simple Abundance”— no one explains the book better than Sarah. Here’s the preface, edited and excerpted…

“Simple Abundance” was my third book. I had previously written two books on Victorian family life, and I was about to begin writing the next on Victorian decorative details. But the thought of ruminating on ruffles and flourishes for a year brought dread to my heart. What I wanted to read was a book that would show me how to reconcile my deepest spiritual, authentic, and creative longings with often overwhelming and conflicting commitments. I knew I wasn’t the only woman hurtling through real life as if it were an out of body experience. I knew I wasn’t the only woman frazzled, depressed, worn to a raveling. But I also knew I certainly wasn’t the woman with the answers. I didn’t even know the questions.

I wanted so much—money, success, recognition, genuine creative expression — but had absolutely no clue as to what I truly needed. At times my passionate hungers were so voracious I could only deal with them through denial. I was a workaholic, careaholic, and perfectionist. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been kind to myself. Was I ever? More often than it feels comfortable to admit, I was an angry, envious woman, constantly comparing myself to others.

One morning I woke up physically exhausted and spiritually bankrupt; money was tight, too. I’d lost two lucrative consulting jobs and the freelance market was shrinking fast. Worrying about money had squandered my most precious natural resources — time, creative energy, and emotion.

I felt the deep need to sit down at the kitchen table and start writing an inventory of what was good in my life, right at that moment. Think Pollyanna on Prozac. When I stopped six hours later, to my great astonishment I’d created a master list of my life’s many overlooked blessings. I had over 150 and none of them had anything to do with money! And then, what I call an everyday epiphany occurred: I realized I didn’t need a single thing, except the awareness of how blessed I was.

That was the first time that Gratitude beckoned and invited me to use its transformative power, not to revamp my life, but to rejoice in it. The thirteenth-century German mystic Meister Eckhart believed, “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘Thank You,’ it will be enough.” I discovered just how right he was and got so excited that I started writing down five new things to be thankful for every day.

I made the unexpected but thrilling discovery that everything in my life is significant enough to be a continuous source of reflection, revelation, reconnection: bad hair, mood swings, car pools, excruciating deadlines, overdrawn bank accounts, dirty floors, grocery shopping, exhaustion, illness, nothing to wear, unexpected company, even the final twenty-five pounds. Simple Abundance gave me the transcendent awareness that an authentic life is the most personal form of worship. Everyday life has become my prayer.

It took two years — and 30 rejections — to find a publisher, and when it was published, it looked as if “Simple Abundance was going to slip through the cracks and disappear. I couldn’t let that happen. I had nowhere to go for help except down on my knees. The next day I heard what I call “marching orders” to “Send 30 books to the Oprah Winfrey show for every woman on her staff. Let’s see if we can’t get women talking.”

The publicity department sent thirty copies as holiday gifts to the Oprah Winfrey staff. A week later, we heard from t: the women loved the book, but it really wasn’t a show. The first week in February, we got another call. Oprah had gone into her hair and make-up room and saw Simple Abundance on the counter and wondered “what’s this pink book I keep seeing everywhere.” She opened it and read something that spoke to her — and I was invited to come to Chicago the following week.

No one spreads the gospel better than Oprah. She generously spoke about the life-changing effect of keeping a Gratitude Journal and devoted many shows to “Simple Abundance” and the “Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude.” Before I knew it, “gratitude fever” had swept the country.

Today’s rapidly changing, complex and mostly alarming 24/7 “Breaking News” culture engulfs us at every turn, depleting our sense of security and diminishing our capacity for happiness, leaving us feeling exhausted and vulnerable. We’re fraught, fragile and frightened. In this revised version of the book, I’ve made many changes. One thing is unchanged: I consider your search for authenticity a sacred undertaking.

These are extraordinary times, but they are not the New Normal, because there is nothing normal about what is unfolding every day. And the only way to safeguard ourselves and those we love is by realizing and acknowledging that technology must have its limits. How do we do this? The way women have always protected their own: by creating emotional and psychological safe havens that shelter what we hold sacred.

Blessed are we among women…

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