I mentioned a while back that I was reading Peace and Plenty by Sarah Ban Breathnach.
I finally finished all 400+ pages, and I have to say I’d recommend about the first hundred pages or less. Skip the rest. Why? In short:
- No, that wasn’t a slip of the tongue; she really does believe in reincarnation. She goes into it explicitly. She also thinks we’re having a major recession because a lot of us “chose” to learn “lessons” on money this reincarnation.
- It’s a lot like reading The Feminine Mystique; if you aren’t currently heading into, through, or out of a divorce, the tone is a bit much. Not all of us are divorced, so a lot of her advice isn’t the best, or even applicable.
- She believes in talismans and lucky items and recommends them. That also wasn’t just a less-than-ideally worded phrase; she really, no kidding, believes in magic items. And fortune tellers. Not the one who swindled her in London, of course, but the “talented” ones, she specifies.
- Family does not really figure in her advice. She talks about making a cozy home as a shelter for others, but the “others” are largely absent. The advice seems largely geared towards a woman as an individual only, not as a partner in a marriage or family.
- Logic often doesn’t figure in her advice. If you have a closetful of expensive shoes that you can’t wear anymore because of a back condition and you need money then, logically you should sell them. Of course, one can also ask why the author of a book called Simple Abundance ever owned a closetful of Maholo Blahniks…
The whole problem hinges on her view of gratitude.
You should be grateful, she said. She extols the virtues of practicing gratitude, and I really enjoyed those sections. We need reminders to be grateful and appreciative. Even in the middle of a recession with uncertainty the main feature of the news, we have been very blessed in this country. She even encourages her readers to give to charity as a way of showing gratitude.
However, Breathnach takes it a step farther. Gratitude, she says, doesn’t just make you happier, it attracts money and success. It “tells the Universe” that you’re turning your life around, so the Universe will start sending you good things. Turns out, she also believes firmly in the quack notion that writing affirming things in your journal or repeating them to yourself or daydreaming about them actually makes them happen. When she says “gratitude,” she doesn’t mean the attitude of being grateful for a blessing, usually to God. She means a manipulation of the Universe (or the “Mother of Abundance” she keeps referencing) that obligates the Santa-like beings to bestow more gifts.
Confidence is great. A good attitude can mean landing the job, while a defeatist attitude can show and sink your job interviews. But that doesn’t mean that the affirmation got you the job.
Gratitude that has any object other than thankfulness is not gratitude. Gratitude does not hinge on getting what you want tomorrow. It is not a trick to get the “Universe” to give you what you want, like the smiling child who shows up to announce in her cutest voice, “I wuv you!… Can I have a cookie?” Most parents don’t take that as gratitude, they call it manipulation and have a bit of a talk with the child about love not being a tool to get what we want out of people.
A great deal of Breathnach’s advice about thrift and gratitude lead towards getting what you want, whether that is some really expensive clothing, vacations, or whatever. She misses the real point of thrift (more on that later)… and of gratitude.
Gratitude brings wealth in the appreciation of our current blessings. “It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” Wanting something else always has the potential to be a joy-killer. If you aren’t content with what you have, getting one more thing won’t change that. Neither will one more vacation, one more outfit, or one more home, because “one more” is rarely enough when you fail to live in a consistent attitude of thankfulness.
When you are content with what you have, you are not looking for something else. You are not perpetually searching for and shopping for (and often buying) new things. Shopping or “just looking” at the mall lose their appeal as regular leisure activities if you’re truly grateful for what you already have.
Breathnach received loads of publicity for her first book (and all its associated merchandising, journals, and stuff). Oprah featured her. And the malls are still full of those “grateful” people waiting for the Universe to hand them a check for everything else they want for their next big adventure in life when they re-invent themselves and find their “authentic selves” (Breathnach’s other book).
Anyone read Madame Bovary? (I was a French minor, so, yes, I did.) She, too, was looking for her “real” self and the next big adventure by shopping extravagantly to be ready for when it came, and she destroyed her family, her fortune, and her daughter in the process. She wasn’t grateful for anything she had, because she was always looking at what better object or life she might have had. So, none of it made her happy and she commits suicide when the bills finally come due and can’t be hidden anymore.
Madame Bovary’s life pinched and chafed because she refused to have gratitude.
News flash: Contented lives often look a bit boring. Long, stable marriages. Long, often tiring years of child-raising. Saving responsibly and making do creatively, hopefully with a flash of grace and beauty in the everyday. It isn’t exactly the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters, this long, steady contentment in the same direction. It isn’t the quick fix of self-help books and ten-step plans to a new you. There likely won’t be any fabulous vacations with movie stars (how many of them are happy, anyways?) or millions of dollars squandered to bemoan in a bestselling how-to book.
But the joy based on steadiness runs deeper, truer, and longer, if we can learn to be grateful.