A few months ago a friend reached out on Facebook and asked if I’d be interested in joining a group discussion on a book called Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach.
Always eager to read new books and talk about them, I said, “Sure!” Off I went to Amazon where I discovered the book was written in 1995. Apparently it caused quite a buzz at the time. The book was a huge hit, and achieved the gold ring of authorship: a seat on Oprah’s couch.
As an aside, I’d never heard of the book. Those were the dark days of my reading life—not to mention pop culture of any kind. My kids were young (like 6 and 11), and I was working a home-based business plus doing the whole school-church-volunteer thing. The decade of the ‘90s is a blur to the point I’ve pretty much lost it. (On the plus side, I do know how to build a Lenni Lenape hut!)
Anyway, the book is a daily devotional for women about finding joy (abundance) in the simple things of your life, based on the principles of gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy.
Think “Stop and smell the roses.” Or “Don’t worry, be happy.”
The book starts out with the basic concepts, then drills down on a daily basis with examples of how to apply those concepts until they’re so ingrained in your everyday thought process, you’ve discovered your “authentic self.” Once you do that, you’ll see the world with newly opened eyes to its wonders, you’ll ride the storms with gratitude, and you’ll be happy, happy, happy. (Okay, okay, I apologize for the snark, but I’ve been a bit of a skeptic.)
For one thing, right from the beginning I got the impression that the author’s audience was wealthy and elite, or at least comfortably middle class. (How else can you interpret the advice to not worry about money because finances ebb and flow and we don’t REALLY need everything we want, do we?)
Perhaps my snark has been amplified by the fact that I also just read a book called Crave: A Sojourn for the Hungry Soul by Laurie Jean Cannady. It’s a memoir of the growing up years of a young African-American woman in Southern Virginia whose family existed in a cycle of poverty, hunger (to the point of near starvation), abuse and violence. It’s a tough book to read, only lightened by the fact that you know she eventually comes out of it by the simple fact that she wrote the book.
The contrast between the two has been stark, and even though I’m not poor like Cannady’s family, I was raised by a single mom, and we were pretty poor. And while my sister and I have come a long way, thanks to our mom and her love and support, I’m neither wealthy nor elite, and most days I don't feel too comfortable financially. :-) Many of Breathnach’s examples on simplifying your life, for example, have made me roll my eyes, snort and mutter obscenities under my breath.
So imagine my shock to find this story on ABC.com that, despite the book’s huge success, the author had lost all her money a few years back.
She blamed hyper generosity (my phrase) and the fact that women of her
generation weren’t taught how to handle finances.
Again, I have to say perhaps it was her class/status in society that kept her in the dark. My mom knew how to stretch the few pennies she had pretty far. I think most women with little/no financial means learn how to handle what little they have pretty quickly!
Still, I’ve decided there are lessons for me. Like try to find the joy in each moment. I can do that. And it has been helping...bit by bit. Yesterday when I answered the newsroom phone (at my day job) to a caller asking me to do online research for him on a CNN anchor because he can’t get to the library, I decided to be grateful that I do have resources and got him the information he was looking for.
There's another plus to this reading journey. At the author’s suggestion, I started a gratitude journal. At first it was hard to think of different things to be grateful for outside the usual (family, friends, health, housing, food....). But then I started to internally identify things during the day – like the fact that I do have internet resources while others don’t – and my evening list-making became easier.
So despite my overall cynicism, I’ll probably still keep reading. I mean, what if the light bulb in my brain finally goes off and I start to get it!
If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts!