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365 Days to a Balanced and Joyful Life
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First published in 1995, Simple Abundancetopped the New York Times Bestseller list for over two years and is responsible for introducing two hugely popular concepts — the “Gratitude Journal” and the term “Authentic Self.” With daily inspirational meditations and reflections, the Simple Abundance phenomenon became a touchstone for a generation of women, helping them to reclaim their true selves, find balance during life’s busiest moments, and rediscover what makes them truly happy.
Simple Abundance’s powerful messages are needed now more than ever, as we navigate the discord and stress instigated by a constant stream of “breaking news” cycles, and our 24/7 social media culture. Sarah Ban Breathnach has refreshed her bestselling phenomenon to address the needs of a new generation, with her signature candor, wit, and wisdom that made her a trusted and compassionate confidant for millions of women.
A perennial classic whose time has come again, Sarah’s work celebrates quiet joys, simple pleasures, and well-spent moments and reminds us how to find the beauty in the everyday.
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In a time lacking in truth and certainty and filled with anguish and despair, no woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart.
—Louise Bogan (1897–1970)
America’s first woman Poet Laureate
Upon Reading This Book
Preface to the
25th Anniversary Edition of
365 Days to a Balanced and Joyful Life
For centuries women have been saying many of the things we are saying today and which we have often thought of as new.
Welcome. If you’re a new acquaintance, I hope that by the end of our year together you’ll think of me as a good friend. And if you’re a cherished companion, welcome back. How wonderful to be in your dear company again! However, no matter the depth of our affinity, I think that you’re in for as much of a treat reading this book as I’ve had in living and writing it. In fact, this new, updated Simple Abundance is the happiest writing I’ve ever done.
It’s hard to imagine that twenty-five years have passed since Simple Abundance was originally published in 1995. In daily essays, I shared the revelations that came while trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with often overwhelming commitments to family and work. I had long suspected that I wasn’t alone in my frustrations and desires, but nothing could have prepared me for the way women around the world—millions of you—responded. We began an exciting adventure together, which is a continuing source of gratitude, grace, and fulfillment for me. I hope it is for you as well.
First, the Backstory
Story is a sacred visualization. A way of echoing experience.
—Terry Tempest Williams
American author, activist, and conservationist
By far, the most frequent questions I’m asked when I speak or meet with readers pertain to the backstory of Simple Abundance. How and why did I write it? How did I manage to express on the page what so many women were thinking? Or the question that everybody wants to know: How did I get on Oprah?
Over the years I’ve learned that the most fascinating part of any book, film, or person is their “backstory,” the tale hidden in between the lines. When I glance back at my own, what amazes me the most is how the mystical links in the chain of chance that brought this book into the world, my heart, and your hands came as a result of all my “Unanswered Prayers.” This mystery makes me smile in grateful puzzlement, for I have no explanation as to why the tears we shed over our failures prepare our souls for the growth we’ll need for our future successes.
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. However, 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—to my daughter, my marriage, invalid mother, work at home, work in the world, siblings, friends, and community. 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 could find no such book. 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 to heart.
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 only to become resentful because of what seemed to be missing from my life, although I couldn’t have told you what that was.
Money was an enormous, emotionally charged issue that controlled my ability to be happy because I let it; money was the only way I could measure my success and self-worth. If I couldn’t write a check on my accomplishments, they didn’t exist. Frustrated and unable to fathom why some women appeared to lead much more fulfilling lives—even though I was conscientiously connecting all the dots—I careened between feeling that I was frittering my life away to feeling that I was sacrificing it on the altar of my own ambition.
I was a woman in desperate need of Simple Abundance.
And why did my life need to change? Like fifty million other working mothers, my daily round had become a tug-of-war between other people’s demands and expectations and my own genuinely conflicted desires and unrequited needs. I frantically multitasked from one obligation to the next so fast that my spirit felt as if it was constantly sprinting to catch up with me, which it finally did when I collapsed into bed. Mornings were a major source of dread; my first conscious breath was a sigh; my awakening thought was how to make it through the day. Of course, I never complained to anyone else, but I whined to myself and God until, literally, the sound of my own nagging nearly drove me mad.
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 because the only story in town was downsizing. I was so sick and tired of concentrating on what was missing from my life, Heaven knows I didn’t want to write about it. I felt drained, depleted, discouraged. Worrying about money had squandered my most precious natural resources—time, creative energy, and emotion. So 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 more than 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.
However, before this book could be written, I had to take stock of what was working in my life and what wasn’t. Perhaps for the first time, I had to be ruthlessly honest both inwardly and outwardly. During this time of profound introspection, six practical, creative, and spiritual Graces—Gratitude, Simplicity, Order, Harmony, Beauty, and Joy—became the catalysts that helped me define a life of my own. One morning I awoke to the realization that, almost imperceptibly, I’d become a happy woman, experiencing more moments of contentment than distress. Feeling confident again, I proposed writing a downshifting lifestyle book for women who want, as I did then and still do, to live by their own lights.
But the book you’re reading bears absolutely no resemblance to the book I began. While I wrote for nearly five years, Simple Abundance underwent an extraordinary metamorphosis, as did I. On the page every morning, spirituality, authenticity, and creativity converged into an intimate search for Wholeness. I began writing about eliminating clutter and ended up on a safari of the self and Spirit. No one is more astonished by this than I am.
As Simple Abundance evolved from creating a manageable lifestyle into living in a state of grace, I began to barely recognize the woman I once was. Simple Abundance has enabled me to encounter everyday epiphanies, find the Sacred in the ordinary, the Mystical in the mundane, and fully enter the sacrament of the present moment. I even laugh more than before, especially at myself.
I’ve 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 losing the final twenty-five pounds. Simple Abundance has given me the transcendent awareness that an authentic life is the most personal form of worship. Everyday life has become my prayer.
However, bringing Simple Abundance into the world was the biggest challenge of my life. Even though I had been a published journalist for two decades, a nationally syndicated columnist, and the author of two previous books, finding a publisher willing to back me was a demoralizing and difficult battle. Over a two-year period, the proposal was turned down thirty times; eventually, to soften the blow, my agent, Chris Tomasino, would break the news to me a few painful letters at a time. The reasoning behind the rejection? Simplicity wasn’t commercial, and a lifestyle book based on gratitude? Forget it.
Twenty-five years, seven million copies, and thirty languages later suggest a different story.
In preparation for this new preface, I went back to my publishing memorabilia files to trace how the miracle came about. Some of the rejection letters are still so difficult to read they make me wince. It’s no wonder I cried myself to sleep more nights than anybody can imagine. But the next morning, I’d say, “Let’s give it one more shot” and I’d start another meditation. Eventually the thoughts, sentences, paragraphs, and pages began to accumulate, building a creative velocity of their own. Since the beginning I’ve always felt that Simple Abundance was a collaborative project between the Great Creator and me, because the title came to me in flashing neon-colored lights. I pay attention when this happens. My job, as I saw it, was to show up every day and write. The delivery details of finding the right publisher were up to Heaven and Chris.
But I won’t kid you, it’s very difficult to remain optimistic when the world keeps turning you down, so to keep up my spirits I created a publishing mood board to hang over my desk. One afternoon in 1993, two years before Simple Abundance was published, I took a New York Times best-seller list, whited out the number one title, and typed in Simple Abundance instead and changed the date to June 1996. I pasted it up at the top of my computer screen. I also hung up a beautiful card of a painting by Robert Spear Dunning called a “Harvest of Cherries” painted in 1866, which showed a man’s straw hat and a woman’s straw bonnet on the grass next to a Shaker basket overflowing with cherries. Here was the perfect depiction of “All you have is all you need.” And so there I was, working every day with my future gazing fondly at me. I had to learn to trust that Heaven and the “Book” knew more than I did.
Originally, I conceived Simple Abundance as a beautiful full-color lifestyle book, which was quite the trend in the early 1990s; but to no avail. Just as we passed the two-year and thirty-rejection high-water mark, Liv Blumer at Warner Books asked Chris if I would be willing to turn Simple Abundance into a daily inspirational book. I thought this was preposterous; how could I give any woman inspiration, when I was so desperately seeking it myself? Chris asked me to sleep on it.
The next morning, I took the existing manuscript and rearranged the text into daily essays. I was stunned by the power of the small and the reassuring nature of having just one story to read and ponder throughout the day. And then I heard that soft and compassionate Voice that I’ve come to know as Spirit ask, “Can we get to work now?” We did, but it would take another two years to complete. Obviously, I had a lot of things I wanted to talk over with you.
When Simple Abundance was finally published in November 1995, my publisher told me it was a “woman’s book.” That it would be a “slow burn” and depend on women’s “word of mouth” recommendations to each other. Actually, “a woman’s book,” “slow burn,” and “word-of-mouth” are publishing euphemisms meaning “no publicity.” And sure enough, there was none in those first few months other than through local bookstores.
How heartbreaking and upsetting this was—five years of work, struggle, sweat, and tears and no publicity? Simple Abundance was going to just 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 Heaven whispered in my ear: “Send thirty books to The Oprah Winfrey Show for every woman on her staff. Let’s see if we can’t get women talking.”
Now this was a very unusual way to publicize books and it was before Oprah began her famous book club, which got women reading and talking about books in a new and exciting way. My publisher’s publicity department had already submitted one copy of the book to Oprah’s producers, so they were understandably nervous about my suggestion being seen as serious overkill.
In the meantime, it was the holiday season and good friends were generously giving private book parties for me and inviting their friends and friends of their friends. The response was enthusiastic.
I took a booth at the Washington Waldorf School holiday bazaar, which is always packed. People circle the date a year in advance because it is the best holiday bazaar you’ll ever go to. I sold a hundred books in a couple of hours, autographing them all. That’s when I noticed something unusual. Women were buying multiple copies. They bought it for their sisters, best friends, daughters, daughters-in-law, mothers, mothers-in-law, nieces, cousins, neighbors, bosses, and secretaries. Women who had bought books at the parties later tracked me down to buy some more! It was a wonderful surprise that brought on a very giddy feeling.
But I still couldn’t get the idea of Oprah out of my mind. I made my case yet again to the publicity department and offered to pay for the books but asked the publisher to please send them, so I didn’t look like the desperate author I really was. I guess they’d heard the passion in my voice because they finally said yes, and graciously sent thirty copies of Simple Abundance as holiday gifts to the Oprah Winfrey staff. (And I didn’t even have to pay for them!)
About a week later, publicity said that while the women all loved the book, the Oprah production team claimed it really didn’t work as the basis for a show. To save face, I replied: “One day Oprah will pick up Simple Abundance and she’ll read something that will speak to her, and then it will be a show.”
January 1996 arrived, bringing with it blustery weather and, in my house, the heated topic of “When am I going to get a real job?” As I was dropping my daughter off at school after the holiday break, a woman waved at me excitedly and crossed the parking lot. She was breathless, she had so much she wanted to tell me. Putting her hands on my shoulders and looking me straight in the eyes, she began thanking me profusely for writing Simple Abundance. She told me that her mother-in-law was a pediatric heart surgeon, but she’d given it up because it was so difficult losing little ones no matter how much she tried.
“We gave her Simple Abundance for Christmas and guess what? She’s going back to work because now she recognizes her authentic gift and she’s meant to be there.” Both our eyes were filled with happy emotions and so much gratitude.
Right then, right there, I completely surrendered to Spirit my attachment to the outcome of Simple Abundance. I acknowledged and accepted that it had always been Heaven’s book. I had been abundantly blessed to have been the author to write it, and I was very grateful for the opportunity. I just prayed that I might be able to find work using my authentic gifts.
I started receiving letters from readers all over the country thanking me for writing SA and saying that they no longer felt so alone.
The first week in February, The Oprah Winfrey Show called. Oprah had gone into her hair and makeup room and saw Simple Abundance on the counter and wondered, “What’s this pink book I keep seeing everywhere?” Oprah opened it and read something that spoke to her, and I was invited to come to Chicago the following week. I asked if I could bring my thirteen-year-old daughter with me. It was the best bring-your-daughter-to-work experience ever!
We arrived in Chicago the afternoon before the taping of the show and took a short walk from our hotel to explore Michigan Avenue and our surroundings. We found the Terra Museum of American Art. It was almost closing time, so we quickly strolled through the museum. On the second floor I turned into an empty gallery. And what do you think I found? Robert Spear Dunning’s “Harvest of Cherries.” The painting of the postcard that I’d lovingly looked at every day while I wrote Simple Abundance. I still get shivers of delight remembering this full-circle moment and the spiritual confirmation that I had never been alone on the journey of unanswered prayers. Neither are you.
The Grace of Gratitude
Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.
—Victor Hugo (1802–1885)
French poet, novelist, and dramatist
I don’t know which passage of Simple Abundance spoke to Oprah, but I sense it had something to do with Gratitude, and 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.
Just five years before, in 1991, when I’d begun experimenting with Gratitude as a spiritual catalyst for changing my life, I’d been disappointed at how little I could find written on the subject. The one exception was a slender meditation by the Benedictine brother David Steindl-Rast, titled Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer. Certainly, there was no such thing as the gratitude journal. My answer was to create one, because daily gratitude was such a wonderful new practice for me.
Today when I type the word gratitude into search engines there are 154,000,000 books, websites, articles, newsletters, and research project links, and that number increases daily. One of my favorites is the weighty tome The Psychology of Gratitude, edited by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, which is the first compilation of the empirical, scientific research on gratitude conducted by prominent scientists documenting the positive effects gratitude has on our mind, body, and spirit.
I’m sharing this with you because if you’re new to Simple Abundance, then whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve been hearing about it for years, whenever you encounter conversations about gratitude or gratitude journals. In fact, it’s become so ubiquitous within the American conversation that it’s almost the pop-cultural, psychobabble equivalent of elevator music.
I wanted to address and acknowledge this directly before you embark on the Simple Abundance path to your authenticity. You may think you know about the power of Gratitude, but until you experience the miracle of Gratitude personally, you can’t. Throughout this revised version of the book, I have deliberately left the meditation sequence for your own discovery of the power of Gratitude as it was in the original Simple Abundance. You will come to these pages just as the women before you did. I want to reassure you that I consider your search for authenticity a sacred undertaking.
Which brings us to the “Authentic Self,” another runaway offspring that has been used in so many ways over the last twenty years that it, too, has become its own cliché. But I promise you, if you can just mentally delete anything and everything connected to somebody else’s version of the “Authentic Self,” you’ll have so much fun in discovering Her for yourself.
Truth or Dare
What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.
—Muriel Rukeyser (1913–1980)
American poet and political activist
When I was writing Simple Abundance, I was writing for only one reader: you. Every day for five years I was creating a private respite for the both of us from the stresses of the world and our own impossible pursuit of perfection. I was telling the truth about my life, and perhaps it mirrored your own. We are kindred spirits.
In many respects, Simple Abundance was the original woman’s blog because its day-to-day format dealt with everything in our daily round.
It also went viral. Women bought Simple Abundance to give to others for the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations; in turn, they received it from family on Mother’s Day, and from their friends when the marriage ended, the job was eliminated, or the diagnosis was devastating. When a phone call sent a woman reeling, dashing her dreams and shattering the life she took for granted, the “pink book” turned up as often as casseroles. Psychotherapists have told me they prescribed it; twelve-step program participants passed it on; abused women found it in a shelter’s communal library. Women read it while waiting to receive chemotherapy then left it behind for the nurses who cared for them so tenderly. To celebrate, to commiserate, to comfort, to cheer, but above all, to communicate, women around the world—from Connecticut to Croatia to China—shared Simple Abundance with each other and blessed the life they found in between its lines: their own.
Why This Book, Why Now?
People have to learn sometimes not only how much the heart can take, but how much the head can bear.
—Maria Mitchell (1818–1889)
America’s first female astronomer and discoverer of Miss Mitchell’s Comet in 1847
As women, we’ve been separated into age groups from birth that no longer fit or serve us. What are our descriptive choices right now? Millennial, Generation X, Boomer? Simple Abundance readers defy these limiting categories. I wouldn’t be writing this updated version today if it hadn’t been for some new millennial readers who wrote to tell me how much they loved SA, but could I possibly update it for them? Michelle Obama, who in my heart is the poster woman for the Authentic Self, tells us: “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”
So let’s get to it by meeting in the middle. We are the glorious and stunning Mid-Century Moderns. But no matter what our age or attitude, our hearts and heads need a little homegrown comfort, balance, and joy for what ails us. And I think you’ll discover it in between these covers. How about serenity, one sentence at a time? 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.
Most of us on any given day will admit that we hardly know whether we’re coming, going, or where we’ve been; we feel constantly distracted—even in the company of those we love. We’re often on the verge of tears “for no reason” and feel that there’s no one we can talk to who will understand. More bewildering is that this continuous sensation of being anxious, overwhelmed, and emotionally overwrought has somehow become our culture’s accepted “New Normal.” Virtually every woman I know admits that she wakes up worn out and weary, on edge, and more likely to imagine difficulties ahead than ever before. But this behavior is not normal or healthy. And someone needs to say so.
I’ll go first.
This is not normal.
We are living through 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. That’s why I’m back.
The last revision of Simple Abundance was done for its tenth anniversary in 2005. But fourteen years ago, technology had not expanded to its dominance over our lifestyle as it has today. Where technology once enhanced our lives, now we’re often held hostage to it. Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science-fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey has become our prophetic living history. But instead of the sentient HAL floating in outer space, we’ve got Alexa to do our bidding at home and Siri giving us directions in the car. And we wonder why we don’t have the patience to hear ourselves complete one thought?
I’ve approached the total revision with a reader in mind not of twenty-five years ago, but of today. I’ve freshened some meditations, revamped others, replaced many. The soul of Simple Abundance remains intact: All we have is all we need. All we need is the awareness of how much we’ve been blessed with every day. For those of you who already are treasured friends, there’s plenty new to ponder. For our daughters, there are the gentle nudges that we needed at that age, and much encouragement to embark on their own safari of the self. But here’s the magic: While I was rewriting this version, I was reunited with the girl I’d left behind, and I’m now on my own new safari. I hope that everyone who reads Simple Abundance will be so inspired.
- On Sale
- Nov 19, 2019
- Page Count
- 624 pages
- Grand Central Publishing