Many believe the “Serenity Prayer”, of which a portion is used in 12 step meetings, was generally based on the writings of Roman stoic philosopher Epictetus. Here’s a translated section of one of his dialogues that shows that Epictetus’s thoughts could have been on the mind of Reinhold Niebuhr when he wrote the “Serenity Prayer”.
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us. These areas are quite rightly our concern, because they are directly subject to our influence. We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.
Outside our control, however, are such things as what kind of body we have, whether we’re born into wealth or strike it rich, how we are regarded by others, and our status in society. We must remember that those things are externals and are therefore not our concern. Trying to control or to change what we can’t only results in torment.
Remember: The things within our power are naturally at our disposal, free from any restraint or hindrance; but those things outside our power are weak, dependent, or determined by the whims and actions of others. Remember, too, that if you think that you have free rein over things that are naturally beyond your control, of if you attempt to adopt the affairs of others as your own, your pursuits will be thwarted and you will become a frustrated, anxious and fault-finding person. (From the “Art of Living” Epictetus interpretation by Sharon Lebell)
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Full version of the “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr
People are not disturbed by things,
but by the views they take of them.