The Serenity Prayer, so named by the Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr (1943) and attributed to many back to Roman times, begins with the familiar words:


God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change

Courage to change things I can, and

Wisdom to know the difference.


These well known words are a life line for many coping with loss, depression or addiction.

Niebuhr chose to unpack his message by adding the Christian exhortations to humility, poverty, penitence and divine redemption:


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;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him

Forever in the next. Amen.


Whether one is of faith or agnostic, there are in the opening lines of the Serenity Prayer, a message of importance in psychotherapy. The consequences of neurosis include confusion and the paralysis of action. The opening lines of the Serenity Prayer give us the conditions for taking effective action in our lives. A humanistic psychotherapist might substitute for Niebuhr’s religions completion something more existential. Beyond knowing when to act and when to rest, we also need maturity in being able to delay gratification, the wisdom to take the long view and not get lost in the details of the moment, as well as the perspective to understand our own (relatively small) place in the scheme of things. And thus we might add the following three lines to the original three of the Serenity Prayer:


The patience to accept that things take time to work out

Letting go of asking “why” because I may not be ready to understand the answer, and

The detachment to realize that whatever my problem is, it involves more than me.