Rediscovering ‘Simple Abundance’: A Conversation With Sarah Ban Breathnach

December 13, 2019 Updated: December 13, 2019
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Sarah Ban Breathnach rose to success after publishing her landmark book “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” in 1995. After a resounding endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, she found her book atop the bestseller list for two years, going on to sell more than 7 million copies. 

“Simple Abundance” popularized the concept of the “authentic self” and the practice of keeping a gratitude journal—two key ideas that are still touted in the self-help space today.

For the book’s 25th anniversary, Ban Breathnach is releasing an updated and expanded edition, aiming to inspire a new generation. 

I spoke to her about the new book and the impact her ideas have had over the past 25 years. Here’s what she said.

The Epoch Times: It has been 25 years since the extraordinary success of “Simple Abundance.” What inspired you to write this book originally?

Sarah Ban Breathnach
The author Sarah Ban Breathnach. (Courtesy of Sarah Ban Breathnach)

Sarah Ban Breathnach: Simple Abundance was my third book. I’d previously written two books on Victorian family life and was about to begin my third, which would have been on Victorian decorative details. But a writer spends about two years on a book and the thought of meditating on the meaning of ruffles and flourishes for that long filled my heart with dread.

What I wanted to read was a book that would show me how to reconcile my deepest spiritual, authentic, and creative longings with what felt like overwhelming and conflicting commitments—to my daughter, marriage, invalid mother, work at home, work in the world, siblings, friends, and community. I knew I wasn’t the only woman hurtling through life as if it were an out-of-body experience, worn out and frazzled. But I also couldn’t imagine that I’d be the woman with any answers because I didn’t even know the questions I should be asking. 

The author Toni Morrison, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, observed, “If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I took her advice.

The Epoch Times: What was it like to have your ideas resonate with so many people?

Ms. Ban Breathnach: Well, I was completely overwhelmed. But that’s because it was such a struggle to get “Simple Abundance” into the world. 

My backstory is that while I wrote “Simple Abundance,” over a two-year period, I was turned down by 30 American publishers, some of them twice. So, I had been badly bruised in the rejection battles, which knocks writers, both experienced and new to the creative mat. The only thing that can keep you going is to believe that the “book” knows more than you do, and that if you were given this creative dream from the Great Creator, your story isn’t over until others get to see it. You have to keep going if you want a happy ending. 

I also had the unwavering support of my agent Chris Tomasino. Still, I won’t kid you, it’s hard to stay optimistic when the world keeps turning you down, and there were many nights that I cried myself to sleep. But the morning would always come, and I’d say, “OK, let’s give it another shot.” 

So, after it finally was published and connected with so many women—eventually 7 million in 28 languages—and was on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years, I truly was stunned and humbled.

The Epoch Times: Since its first publication, you’ve released a number of companion books and have impacted millions of readers. What has been the most meaningful part of this journey for you?

Ms. Ban Breathnach: I believe that the invisible companionship I have with my readers is so extraordinary. I am especially touched by the number of women who keep me in their prayers. 

I think the greatest gift one woman can give another is her prayers. And I know that as my personal journey has had twists and unexpected detours, some deep reserve of hope has kept me going—and that’s the prayers of my unseen sisters. And I feel happy that they, too, do not feel alone as they continue on their own personal journey. I’m with them all the way—on the page, in my heart and prayers.

Breathnach_SimpleAbundance
“Simple Abundance: 365 Days to a Balanced and Joyful Life” by Sarah Ban Breathnach (Grand Central Publishing)

The Epoch Times: The new edition of “Simple Abundance” has been expanded and updated. What was that process like?

Ms. Ban Breathnach: I’ve been incredibly grateful that the original “Simple Abundance” has never gone out of print and finds new fans every week. However, several years ago I started to receive messages from younger readers, millennials, and Generation X women who remembered how their mothers had loved the “pink book” and they picked it up and something that they read inspired them. These young women were asking if I could update it for contemporary women. For example, my old suggestions for Joyful Simplicities such as writing for a mail-order catalog and watching a VHS movie completely broke the spell I had created in “Simple Abundance” as it didn’t relate to their reality. Now we’re ordering online and streaming movies!

After Grand Central Publishing gave the green light for an updated 25th anniversary edition of “Simple Abundance,” I initially thought that this would be a quick and straightforward task. But as I mentioned earlier, the “book” always knows more than you do. When I got into the revising, I had to acknowledge that the world we live in today bears little resemblance to the one we lived in circa 1995. Today’s rapidly changing, complex, and mostly alarming 24/7 “breaking news” culture engulfs us at every turn, depleting a woman’s most precious natural resources— time, emotion, and creative energy. 

All the women I know will admit that even though we don’t talk about it, every day we wake up more anxious and overwhelmed by this barrage of constant bad news. Even more bewildering is that this continuous sensation has somehow become our culture’s accepted “new normal.”  

But this is not normal, and someone has to say so. I’m going first: This is not normal. That’s when I realized that the original “Simple Abundance” graces are as valuable and lifesaving now as they were for me 25 years ago! That gave me the impetus to bring the book into the 21st century.

The Epoch Times: How is the new edition different from the original?

Ms. Ban Breathnach: Well, to begin with, it’s 128 pages longer because I obviously have a lot of things I want to talk with the reader about. When I write, it’s only for one woman, which is why I think “Simple Abundance” feels like such a personal and intimate book. It is and there’s nothing in a woman’s life that can’t be a source for reflection and reconnection.

It was time to talk honestly about the intrusion of technology into our lives and how we need to preserve ourselves and those we love by acknowledging that technology has its value, but also must have its limits. And we’re the only ones who can set them. 

I’ve also ended each month with an essay on preparing a Caution Closet as women down through the ages have, because we all know now that emergencies happen everyday and not just to other women. So, I wanted a gentle way of helping each of us gather—before the crisis—the things we might need if we had to evacuate our homes. Doesn’t every woman dream of being the calm center in a storm? Now she can be.

The Epoch Times: What do you hope your readers will take away from the new edition of “Simple Abundance”?

Ms. Ban Breathnach: “Simple Abundance” has always been about finding comfort, restoring passion, and becoming as prepared for the unexpected as we can. It still is, and I hope that as a writer I’m able to reach through the page to help my reader discover contentment and serenity, one sentence at a time.

The Epoch Times: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned over the last 25 years?

Ms. Ban Breathnach: That gratitude is the most powerful force in the universe for transformation, and that asking for one day’s portion of amazing grace is the personal prayer that is always heard. I have never asked for one day’s portion of grace and not received it. But we need to remember to ask for it as we would our daily bread and give thanks for it every night.

“Simple Abundance: 365 Days to a Balanced and Joyful Life” is available now, as well as the 25th-anniversary edition of “The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude” 

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza