Now, before you start getting offended, no, I’m not going to be pushing religion on you. I will be pushing philosophical thought and advice on you, though. So, if you would like to avoid that and would prefer to continue to suffer through life feeling as though everything and everyone is aligned against you, stop here.
For those of you continuing with me, let’s talk about the Serenity Prayer. Ironically, (or maybe not) it is most popular among AA groups. For those of you who don’t know the prayer, or for those who need a reminder, it goes:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
The courage to change the things that I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
The reason that I want to talk about this is because I want to break it down to its component parts for you. I’ve found this prayer to be extremely helpful in keeping things in perspective–knowing what to give a f*ck about, if you will.
I’ve touched on this before, when I mentioned Stoic philosophy. Essentially, the idea is that you need to know what is in your control and what is not. That sounds simple, but it really is a major aspect of attaining happiness (at least in my opinion).
You can’t control the traffic. You can’t control the way that your coworkers act or whether or not that customer is going to be an ass. All that you can control is your reaction to those things.
Which brings us back to the Serenity Prayer. I’m kind of obsessed with the definitions of words, so we are going to start with: what is serenity?
Serenity is a state of being. It is a feeling of peace, of calm. It is more than those two words, though. I like Webster’s definition, it is utter calm. It is so complete that nothing can change it. So, let’s mix that in with the rest of the line (and re-word it a little). “Grant me the utter calm to accept the things that are outside of my control.”
It is not an easy task, accepting things as they are. When you have a pet that is in the last days of their life it can be hard to accept that there will soon be a time when they will be gone. Even thinking about it can be difficult (thinking about things that are difficult, like death, is also an aspect of Stoicism that I will share with you at another time). But, if you can think about it and truly accept that there is nothing that you can do to stop the clock, you will be better equipped to handle it when the time comes.
When the time comes, your inner serenity will be unaltered. You know that it was something that you could not control. You will have stared reality in the face and accepted it for what it is.
Death is something that you can’t control. It is a fact of the external reality that we all must contend with. I use it as an example, because literally all of us have dealt with it in one way or another. It is also so viscerally real that you can’t deny the fact that you have no control. There is no twisting the situation.
There are situations, however, that are fully within your control. You can control how you react to bad traffic, your coworker’s moods, or that asshole customer.
When you look within yourself, can you identify the things in your life that cause you grief? Do you actually feel better when you’re yelling at the stopped car in front of you, or does it make you more agitated? What about holding on to your negative feelings about your coworkers and talking behind the backs? You know that’s not going to go well when they find out, so was your venting really worth it?
Do you see where I’m going with this? There is a cause and effect in your life. In fact, it’s been proven by science. Literally faking a smile will make you happier. It will also boost your immune system. You don’t actually have to be happy, you just have to choose to smile.
So goes the rest of your life. If you choose to look at it positively, you will. It’s not something that you have to be born with. It’s not a genetic trait that is outside of you. Happiness is fully within your control. As cliche as it is, I haven’t heard this in a long time so I’m forcing it on you, find the silver-lining in everything.
Of course there is always a balance in life. Kind of a “yin/yang” thing. Whether or not you believe that is up to you, but has wallowing in self-pity ever made you happy? The answer is no. Choosing to frown, or get angry, or feel sorry for yourself will make it appear as though everything around you is against you.
If you find yourself in that situation, find the serenity to accept that you can’t change these things. They just happen.
Know The Difference
Everything gets out-of-whack when you mistake things you can’t control for things that you can. Or vice-versa. Your dependence on alcohol or drugs is controllable. As hard as you try, you’ll never be able to actually control the way people treat you.
Of course, if you treat dependence on drugs and alcohol as an uncontrollable addiction that you must submit to, it will kill you. If you treat people as if they are pawns in a game, meant to serve you, meant to bend to your will, they will resent you and push you further away. Which will make you panic and want to regain control, which will push them further away.
The cold, hard truth is, reality doesn’t care what you want. It doesn’t care if you don’t want to take responsibility. It doesn’t care if you “deserve” to be in control or not. You must face reality. You must understand what belongs to you and what does not.
If you can do that, you will find that your world becomes much more manageable. You don’t need to contend with the universe or the world. All you need to contend with is your inner demons.
That is more than enough of a task for most of us. When you do start to attend to those demons, you’ll start to find that your world gets a little more serene. A little more peaceful. A little more hopeful.