Introduction

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Introduction

Storytelling has been mankind’s most effective way of passing on wisdom, advice, and culture throughout history. It is the best way for us to learn things. Most successful self-help authors or motivational speakers use storytelling to illustrate their points and deliver their messages in a way that resonates with people.

Our books are primarily composed of stories written by ordinary people who have had extraordinary experiences. These people unselfishly share their stories with our readers. Sometimes they even reveal deeply personal moments in their lives that they have never shared with anyone before, not even their families or friends. Our contributors write the stories for two reasons: 1) to share their stories with strangers who may benefit from hearing of someone else’s experience, and 2) because writing the stories helps them — it is therapeutic to get stories onto paper. Writers tell us that even though their story wasn’t chosen for one of our books, it was still a great experience putting it on paper.

I love our approach because we give our readers 101 personal, revealing stories from different people in every book — and that way everyone is likely to find an approach that works for them, or a story that causes a shift in their attitude, or a story that provides them the support they need during a challenging time. Our books are like portable support groups, with your peers eagerly sharing their stories and offering to help you.

Picking stories that will influence people’s lives is a big responsibility. We get e-mails and letters all the time from people telling us that we have stopped them from committing suicide, reassured them that they are doing the right thing in their personal lives, given them a friend when they thought they were all alone, caused them to pick up the phone and call an estranged relative or friend. They tell us that our stories have inspired them to change their jobs, embrace a volunteer activity, try again to reach a long-ago abandoned goal, or have reinvigorated their lives.

We’ve been publishing our books and changing lives one story at a time since 1993. As part of our twentieth-anniversary celebration, we asked our readers to write about how their favorite Chicken Soup for the Soul stories affected them. You’ll find the stories in pairs in this volume — a new story written just for this book, followed by the story or poem that the reader found so inspiring in one of our past 250+ titles.

The stories that you’ll read cover the whole gamut of Chicken Soup for the Soul’s history, from the very first Chicken Soup for the Soul, which has sold more than eight million copies in the U.S. and Canada, to books you may have never seen that are focused on specific topics. It’s interesting that my own favorite comes from a book called Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Healing for Your Breast Cancer Journey that we created with Dr. Julie Silver of Harvard Medical School. No one in my family has ever had breast cancer, but this story is a standout for me because I feel that it applies to all of us.

In “Eliminate the Negative, Accentuate the Positive,” Georgia Shaffer writes about what happened when she had a recurrence of her breast cancer. A friend drove her to chemo one day but spent the entire time talking about people who had died of cancer. As Georgia says:

“I learned the hard way that I needed to protect myself as much as possible from contact with that kind of negative or thoughtless person . . . I had never realized that just like the weeds in a garden rob the flowers of vital moisture, nutrients and sunlight, so too the ‘weeds’ in my life were robbing me of the vital energy I needed to fight cancer and heal. I could not afford to allow interactions with negative people to steal the few resources I had left . . . I needed to eliminate the negative as much as possible and then accentuate the positive. Like the flowers in my garden turn toward the sun, I decided to focus on the loving, beautiful connections in my life.”

I am so busy in my job as publisher, author, and editor-in-chief of Chicken Soup for the Soul that I too have found that I need to focus on the people who can cast sunshine into my own life. I don’t have as much time as I would like for interaction with family and friends, so I want to make the most of the time that I have outside the office.

And when I am at the office, one of my jobs is to introduce you to the positive people who write for us. They give us stories that are empowering and uplifting, encouraging our readers to look within themselves for the keys to being happy, productive, and purposeful. I love stories from people who have been through enormous challenges and yet have maintained a positive attitude, filled with gratitude for the good things they still have.

In this book, you’ll meet one of our favorite contributors of all time, twenty-year-old Angie Sayers, who bravely wrote about her terminal cancer and changed many lives, including that of Susan Smith, who used Angie’s example to overcome her panic disorder. You’ll meet Sophfronia Scott, who learned from a story in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul about the power of smiling to change her life, even in impersonal New York City. It changed her life, and I happen to see Sophfronia now and again and can report that she is always smiling.

You’ll also read one of the classic self-esteem boosters that we published, by Virginia Satir, and discover how it helped Annabel Sheila turn her life around after a divorce. And you’ll read about Tracy Fitzgerald, whose story gives me chills. One night, Tracy read a story in Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul and mentally prepared herself in case she ever got “the phone call” and learned her husband had lost a limb in Afghanistan. She got the phone call the very next morning.

You’ll read about a woman who was reunited with the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-three years earlier, all because of a connection made in one of our stories. You’ll read about the medevac crewmember who read a story in Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul and realized that he was reading about one of the soldiers he saved in Vietnam, who went on to win four Super Bowls.

The list goes on. We have enjoyed a wonderful trip down Memory Lane putting this volume together for you, and we are gratified to see the effect that our stories have had on so many lives.

As Jack Canfield says, “There are essentially two things that will make you wise — the books you read and the people you meet.” We hope to make you doubly wise — by reading our books and by meeting hundreds of new people through them, so that their life experiences become part of your life experience and wisdom.

Mark Victor Hansen says, “Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.” We wish you happy reading and an enjoyable journey through these powerful stories, and we hope that we contribute to your strength, self-confidence and success, whatever your endeavors.

~Amy Newmark

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