The Virtue of Serenity

Bill W., Dr. Bob, The Serenity Prayer

The practice of serenity starts in Step 3 through the Serenity Prayer. This links serenity directly to acceptance as the most immediate tool which can bring us peace amidst the storms of daily life.

The Serenity Prayer and acceptance do not stand alone, however. They rest on another prayer and another tool which come before them. This is the 3rd Step Prayer (Big Book, p. 63) and the surrender that we begin to practice through it. 

In Step 3 we end the war. We give up all resistance and cease all hostilities. We stop fighting God and make peace with him. We accept his terms, which are not unreasonable: we admit that he’s God and we are not. We surrender our will to his and accept his guidance and direction for our life. We start to rest on him, to trust him and to look to him for our peace and our security, confident that we are loved and will be cared for, whatever the circumstances.

Reconciliation with God is the spiritual foundation of our serenity and peace of mind. Acceptance of who he is and who we are make all other acts of acceptance possible. Based on our reconciliation with him, we seek to reconcile to life and to reconcile with others. We embark upon a continuing process of surrender and acceptance through the Steps of self-examination, confession, and restitution.

As we take inventory and admit to our character and emotional defects, and as we become willing to surrender them and pray for their removal, we start to be relieved of the shortcomings and troubled emotions that rob us of all peace. As we become willing to forgive those who have wronged us and make amends to those we have wronged, calm is restored to our heart and harmony to our relationships.

It is as we take these steps and walk along the path toward reconciliation that AA makes one of its most comforting promises: “We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace” (Big Book, pp. 8384).

[Image: Bill W. and Dr. Bob, with the Serenity Prayer in the background.]

Bill W."If I feel that my pain has in part been occasioned by others, I try to repeat, ‘God grant me the serenity to love their best, and never fear their worst.’ This healing process has seldom failed to restore me to at least a workable emotional balance and perspective." – Bill W., As Bill Sees It

Big Book
"Just to the extent that we do as we think he would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity." – Big Book   

12&12"In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: ‘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. Thy will, not mine, be done." – 12&12, Step 3, pp. 40–41   

Dr. Paul O"When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment." – Dr. Paul O. ("Acceptance Was the Answer," Big Book, p. 417)   

St. Francis of Assisi"Lord, make me a channel of thy peace—that where there is hatred, I may bring love . . . where wrong, forgiveness . . . where discord, harmony . . . where error, truth . . . where doubt faith . . . where despair, hope . . . where shadows, light . . . where sadness, joy." – St. Francis Prayer, 12&12, Step 11   

Life Recovery Bible"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." – John 14:27
“. . . and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds." – Philippians 4:6-7   

Buddha "Cultivate peace first in the garden of your heart by removing the weeds of selfishness and jealousy, greed and anger, pride and ego. Then all will benefit from your peace and harmony." – Buddha   

"If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present." – Lao Tzu   

Marcus Aurelius
"You will give yourself peace of mind if you perform every act of your life as if it were you last." – Marcus Aurelius   

"The mind is never right but when it is at peace within itself." – Seneca   

"The pursuit, even of the best things, ought to be calm and tranquil." – Cicero  

Only the just man enjoys peace of mind." – Epicurus

Petrarch"Five great enemies to peace inhabit with us: avarice, ambition, envy, anger, and pride. If those enemies were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace." – Petrarch   

"Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." – St. Augustine   

Dante Alighieri
"In His will is our peace." – Dante 

Thomas à Kempis
First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others." – Thomas à Kempis   

Francois Duc de La Rochefoucauld
"When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere." – François de La Rochefoucauld   

Baruch Spinoza
"Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice." – Baruch Spinoza

Mahatma Gandhi
"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." – Mahatma Gandhi   

"Talent develops in tranquility, character in the full current of human life." – Goethe  

Rainer Maria Rilke
"All this hurrying soon will be over. Only when we tarry do we touch the holy." – Rainer Maria Rilke  

Benjamin Franklin
"He that would live in peace and at ease must not speak all he knows or all he sees." – Benjamin Franklin  

Abraham Lincoln
"Avoid popularity if you would have peace." – Abraham Lincoln   

Ralph Waldo Emerson
"For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind." – Ralph Waldo Emerson  

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"The best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain." – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow   

Nathaniel Hawthorne"Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you." – Nathaniel Hawthorne 

Joseph Addison"A good conscience is to the soul what health is to the body; it preserves constant ease and serenity within us; and more than countervails all the calamities and afflictions which can befall us." – Joseph Addison  

The Dhammapada
"People forget that their lives will end soon. For those who remember, quarrels come to an end." – The Dhammapada   

Henri-Frederic Amiel"Whenever conscience speaks with a divided, uncertain, and disputed voice, it is not the voice of God. Descend still deeper into yourself, until you hear nothing but a clear, undivided voice, a voice which does away with doubt and brings with it persuasion, light, and serenity." – Henri Frederic Amiel   

Hermann Hesse
"But peace, too, is a living thing, and like all life it must wax and wane, accommodate, withstand trials, and undergo changes." – Hermann Hesse   

Mother Teresa
"The trees, the flowers, the plants grow in silence. The stars, the sun, the moon move in silence. Silence gives us a new perspective." – Mother Teresa   

Alex Noble "If I have been of service; if I have glimpsed more of the nature and essence of ultimate good; if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought and action; if I am at peace with myself, it has been a successful day." – Alex Noble    

Richard Carlson"The first step to becoming a more peaceful person is to have the humility to admit that, in most cases, you're creating your own emergencies. Life will usually go on if things don't go according to plan. It's helpful to keep reminding yourself and repeating the sentence, ‘Life isn't an emergency’." – Richard Carlson   

John Homer Miller
"Circumstances and situations do color life, but you have been given the mind to choose what the color shall be." – John Homer Miller    

Norman Vincent Peale
"Nothing is a greater impediment to being on good terms with others than being ill at ease with yourself." – Norman Vincent Peale

C. S. Lewis
"God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing." – C. S. Lewis  

"Find peace with yourself by accepting not only what you are, but what you are never going to be." – Anonymous   

Peace Pilgrim"The simplification of life is one of the steps to inner peace. A persistent simplification will create an inner and outer well-being that places harmony in one's life.” – Peace Pilgrim   

Gerald G. Jampolsky "Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past, and is therefore the means for correcting our misperceptions." – Gerald G. Jampolsky   

"Talk peaceful to be peaceful." – Anonymous  

Beverly Sills"I had found a kind of serenity, a new maturity . . . I didn't feel better or stronger than anyone else but it seemed no longer important whether everyone loved me or not—more important now was for me to love them. Feeling that way turns your whole life around; living becomes the act of giving.” – Beverly Sills

"Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm." – Anonymous   

Daily Reflections"Today this faith in a Higher Power, plus the honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to work the Steps of the program, gives me the serenity that I seek.” – A.A.’s Daily Reflections   

Twenty-Four Hours a Day "When you have confidence in God’s grace, you can face whatever comes. When you have confidence in God’s love, you can be serene and at peace. You can rest in the faith that God will take care of you. – Twenty-Four Hours a Day

ODAT"When I react, I put the control of my peace of mind in the hands of others. My serenity is under my control, and I will not relinquish it for trivial occurrences." – One Day at a Time in Al-Anon

Courage to Change"When I gather flowers, or marvel at nature’s wonders, I do not lose face when I concede that I’m not in control. So it is with everything in my life. The best way I’ve found to invite serenity is to recognize that the world is in good hands." – Al-Anon’s Courage to Change   

Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts "I will surrender and let a Higher Power's will happen in my life. I will accept the gift of serenity this surrender brings." – Just For Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts 

PTP123"Having interiorized and become wholly disposed to peace, we can then become peacemakers. Our internal strife gone, we are able to impart to others the peace that we now have in us." – PTP123  

PTP124"As a virtue, serenity is a mean (in Aristotelian terms) with regard to the inevitable vicissitudes of life, which quite naturally tend to arouse negative emotions. It enables us to feel them in just proportion, neither too much so that we overreact and make matters worse, nor too little so that we underreact and can’t do justice to a situation." – PTP4   

Practice These: Serenity - Thomas Merton
Practice These: Serenity - Max Ehrmann

For more P TP123 passages on serenity and peace, see “The Serenity Prayer,” pp. 192–202, and “Serenity and Peace,” pp. 214–215. For more PTP4, see for serenity pp. 171, 264, 298, 316; and Stoicism, 285;  and prayer, 247, 248, 379; for peace pp. 287, 331, 381, 437; of mind, 169, 248; maker, 316; restore, 326. For more Big Book and 12&12 passages, click on and search under serenity and peace and their cognates. On this site, see The Virtue of Acceptance, in Practice These, and The Slogans of Step 3, in Reflections.

Additional Resources

  1. Acceptance: The Way to Serenity and Peace of Mind, booklet by Vincent Paul Collins
  2. “Peace,” chapter in Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues, by Robert C. Roberts
  3. “The Virtue of Peace,” chapter in How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad: Living a Life of Christian Virtue, by James S. Spiegel 

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