I don’t pray. But if I did, here’s one prayer I would get down on my knees and utter:
“O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
This is the Serenity Prayer. I first heard it in James and Claudia Altucher’s The Power of No and it stuck. Not for any religious reason. But because it highlights one of the fundamental tenets of Stoicism: The dichotomy of control.
Here is what is within our control: our thoughts, our actions, our intentions. Here is what is outside of our control: everything else.
So for contentment, it’s best to focus on controlling what is ours to control and practice acceptance of everything else.
Now, this isn’t some form of cowardly acceptance of the situations in our life. It doesn’t mean putting up with what you shouldn’t have to. It means focusing your energy and your efforts solely on what you can affect.
Examples of the dichotomy in action: I can’t control how you will respond to reading this. I can only do my best to write it well and honestly. How it impacts you is out of my control.
When you’re driving, you can’t control other people’s driving. If they go slow or swerve erratically, it may be annoying and incredibly stupid, but you cannot control it.
It’s the same when you are sure of something and someone disagrees. You can’t change their mind for them. They must do it themselves. All you can do is lay out your argument as clearly and as emphatically as possible.
Next time you feel anxiety, nervousness, sadness, frustration or anger, think of the Serenity Prayer.
Ask yourself, am I trying to control something which is not mine to control?