The Enduring Popularity Of Chicken Soup For The Soul

Neha Kirpal

November 12, 2018

“Stories are Beings. You invite them to live with you. They’ll teach you what they know in return for being a good host. When they’re ready to move on, they’ll let you know. Then you pass them on to someone else.”

– A Cree Storyteller

My introduction to the Chicken Soup For The Soul series was in school. Our principal would read snippets of its heartfelt motivational stories to us during our weekly ‘value education’ classes. Teary-eyed, we would all quietly listen to many such essays on courage, faith, truth, friendship, honesty and so many more of life’s valuable lessons. In a boarding school where teenagers like us were living far away from our homes and families, it was easy to often falter, be confused and make wrong decisions. Which is why more so then, it was these short, simple and powerful tales and the morals in them that spoke loud and clear to each one of us.

Two decades later, I find that these eternal stories still have meaning and significance in my life today. The setting from school to the world I live in now may have changed, but the challenges, circumstances and people remain the same. The quotes and stories I heard back then sometimes still ring in my ears when faced with such situations. And so, I continue to savour a book or two from the Chicken Soup series whenever I need some comforting.

Chicken Soup For The Soul

The story of the world’s favourite and most recognised storyteller is quite an interesting one and has a mostly unassuming beginning. No one had really imagined its bestseller status at first. Creators Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were motivational speakers who got together and compiled 101 inspirational true stories from members of their audience. The stories were all divided into different sections, such as ‘Love’, ‘Parenting’, ‘Teaching and Learning’, ‘Death and Dying’, ‘Attitude’, ‘Perspective’, ‘Obstacles’ and ‘Wisdom’. The task of translating the spirit of a live presentation into the written word was not an easy one, as stories had to be rewritten five times to work as well in print as they do live. Most of all, they decided to remove all the moralising and preachy bits in them. According to them, they culled the ‘best of the best’ from their 40 years of combined experience. After being rejected by several publishers, the book was finally accepted by a small self-help publisher in 1993. And it opened a floodgate of emotions.

Canfield and Hansen were convinced that stories are one of the most potent ways to transform lives. In the introduction to A 3rd Serving Of Chicken Soup For The Soul, they write about the power of stories:

“They (stories) speak directly to the subconscious mind. They lay down blueprints for living. They offer solutions to our everyday problems and they model behaviour that works. They remind us of our grand nature and our infinite possibilities. They awaken us from our habitual day-to-day lives, invite us to dream, and inspire us to do more and be more than we might have originally thought possible. They remind us of what is most important and they model for us the expression of our highest ideals.”

Encouraged by their success, the duo began publishing more similar titles (A 2nd Helping Of Chicken Soup For The Soul, A 4th Course Of Chicken Soup For The Soul, etc.), and the series began to become a household name. From 1994 to 1998, it had a permanent spot on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 1997, Canfield and Hansen started publishing the series for different demographics beginning with Chicken Soup For The Teenage Soul. It worked, and how. In 1999, it entered the Guinness Book of World Records, for ‘Most Books on the New York Times Bestseller List at one time’.    

Today, it has more than 250 books in every conceivable category—from relationships to food, health, career and spirituality—with titles such as Chicken Soup For The Grandparent’s Soul, The Dog Lover’s Soul, The Writer’s Soul, The Teacher’s Soul, The Coffee Lover’s Soul, The Gardener’s Soul, etc. Further, owing to their enduring popularity, the books have been translated into 43 languages, rendering their reach and relevance truly universal. Published in more than 100 countries, they have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide—making it one of the world’s best-known brands.

It is a sure-shot formula that can’t go wrong: simple, short true stories with a message that tug at one’s heartstrings. These stories are relatable and they show us that we are not alone. They help us understand the consequences of our actions and make better decisions. Each of these curated stories teaches us important lessons about how to be better human beings and conscientious global citizens. They give us hope in trying times, courage when we need it most, and a sense of belonging in an increasingly isolated world.  

And given that there’s something for everyone, the books make for the most appropriate gifts. We want to share Chicken Soup. We want to spread its message by gifting copies of the books, sharing our favourite stories with loved ones, or simply recommending the books. Perhaps that is why the book has remained popular for 25 years and has had such an impact. So much so that in 2007, USA Today named Chicken Soup For The Soul one of the five most memorable and impactful books of the past quarter century. In 2008, it became the bestselling trade paperback series in the history of publishing.

Canfield and Hansen sold a significant stake in the company to a new group led by William J. Rouhana Jr. and Robert Jacobs, in 2008. Since then, it has diversified into several other products such as soups, sauces and prepared foods. The company also has a huge entertainment wing consisting of more than 175 radio stations, television shows, films, podcasts, apps and online video programming.

Till date, it continues to publish a new title every month extolling its timeless values of hope, confidence, overcoming obstacles and belief in oneself. We only hope that it continues to grow from strength to strength in the coming decades!

To end, I’d like to quote this Chinese proverb that was used in the very first Chicken Soup For The Soul:

“If there is light in the soul,
There will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person,
There will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house,
There will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
There will be peace in the world.”

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. All her published work can be accessed on her blog.

Read her articles here.