The Serenity Prayer, Stoic Philosophy and New Year Resolutions!

The Universe tends to nudge us in a certain direction, but sometimes the significance of the moment eludes us and the practicality of the experience is diminished because we can’t quite grasp the magnitude of it all.

However, it is a well-known fact that if you continuously consume content, you create opportunities for the relevant teaching to find its way back to you – often resurfacing just when it’s most needed.

The serenity prayer for me is one of those hidden treasures. A beautiful piece of writing that feels timeless. With its origin rooted in Christianity, and influenced by the teaching of the stoics about 2000 years earlier, the prayer has stood the test of time.

The teaching is inclusive – and whether it is used as a request to a higher power (in Christianity) or a belief in the intelligence within (stoicism & spirituality) there is an awareness that the only thing we can control is our own happiness…

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Reinhold Niebuhr

The prayer emphasizes the need to practice acceptance even when working toward making a change. It is packed full of psychological wisdom and a wonderful antidote for the self-inflicted discomfort in our lives. 

With practice, we can approach uncertainty through the mental lens of serenity and the first step towards this is to accept and let go of things outside our control.

Doing what is in your control takes courage and taking the appropriate action even if fear is present, helps us to discern what is ours to claim and what is not our responsibility.

Knowing the difference can sometimes be clouded by anxiety but wisdom is knowing when to practice acceptance (not in our control) and when to practice courage (within our control)

Similarly, stoic philosophy identifies the Dichotomy of Control – what you can control and what you can’t control-

There are things that are within our power, and things that fall outside our power. Within our power are our own opinions, aims, desires, dislikes – in sum, our own thoughts and actions. Outside our power are our physical characteristics, the class into which we were born, our reputation in the eyes of others, and honours and offices that may be bestowed on us.

Working within our sphere of control, we are naturally free, independent, and strong. Beyond that sphere, we are weak, limited, and dependent…    Arrian – student of Epictetus

In order to not disrupt the tranquillity of the mind it is valuable to consider shifting goals from external outcomes to internal judgements. Do I try to be all things to all people in an effort to be loved (over which I have partial or no control) or do I just do the best I can (over which I have complete control)? 

Most New Years’ resolutions are beyond our control because we are living in a world that is in a constant state of flux. So, maybe it is time to do things differently –

to resolve every day to try and become better than we were yesterday –

to focus on what is up to us and face the rest with equanimity…


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