Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is an invitation for inner and outer peace. It also demonstrates what I see as a difference between serenity and tranquility.
It’s a call for mindful presence in accepting that some things (however much we wish they could) can’t be changed. It’s a recognition that some things (however scary it is to confront them) CAN be altered. And that peace is nurtured as we distinguish between the two and respond accordingly.
It carries three elements: acceptance, courage, and wisdom. These are muscles we grow and sustain through rhythm and repetition.
What I love about this prayer is that it sees serenity not as a destination but as a process. It acknowledges serenity is not an absence of suffering, but rather it’s a recognition of our position WITHIN life’s disturbances.
This sometimes gets lost when we think of serenity as distancing from life’s struggles.
We might picture serenity as a harmonious life without conflict, suffering, and worry. But the prayer paints an opposite picture. It helps us locate ourselves WITHIN the struggles. And posits that serenity is a way of relating to, processing, and engaging with the everyday challenges of ordinary life and the shocks that hit us without warning.
The Difference Between Serenity and Tranquility
Although they are often used interchangeably, it can be helpful to distinguish between Serenity and Tranquility. This is not a universal definition, just my way of separating two distinct concepts.
Serenity helps peace flow from the inside to the outside. Tranquility aims to invite peace from the outside to the inside.
This is why we examine the relationship with our inner world during our month of Serenity. And our month of Tranquility focuses on the conditions of our external world. Serenity is how we prepare to engage with the world around us in gentle ways. Tranquility is about designing our environments, routines, lifestyles, and relationships to be deep sources of energy.
This distinction matters because it allows us to focus on different sides of the coin. Above and below. Within and without. There is always something we can consider on one side of the equation, even when there’s nothing we can do about it on the other.
We sometimes find ourselves in noisy environments caused by an external disturbance we can’t control. This kind of noise is sensory. It enters through our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and nerve endings.
Serenity is the best option if we are unable to stop the cause of the noise. Whether that’s our proximity to it or the source itself, serenity can accept that things are as they are and choose our response to the noise.
This can include acknowledging the feelings that have been provoked within us. We can recognise how the noise has caused disturbance for us. And we can then respond in a way that allows us to maintain as much composure and energy as possible.
Perhaps all we can do is tell ourselves a story that invites understanding and tolerance (seeing the situation from another perspective). Maybe we can remind ourselves that this is temporary and the discomfort will pass.
The option of tranquility helps us examine the conditions of the disturbance—both in terms of the cause of the noise and our relationship with it.
We might ask ourselves: is this a common disturbance for us? What would need to change for the cause of noise to diminish? Or if the cause can’t be altered, how can we shift our position to the noise? How might we implement a boundary, change expectations, or move away from the noise source?
Nurturing serenity from the inside out can also bring peace and gentleness to the world around us. For example, we can diffuse it instead of retaliating in an escalating situation. And rather than adding to the noise, we can model an alternative approach that might inspire others.
Serenity is not always an easy option when internal feedback loops kick in. This kind of noise comes from our thoughts, feelings, and judgements.
We might draw instead on tranquility. We can take action to invite more calm and peace to our inner world. This sort of tranquility emerges via processes, practices, and behaviours. There are quick fixes we might find helpful (breathing exercises, stepping away etc.) and longer-term conditions for more peace. For example, creating positive boundaries, establishing energising habits, and engaging in meaningful creative practices.
Tranquility is a good option in the face of sudden change and loss. When our minds are understandably shaken, chaotic, and scattered, drawing on go-to tranquility practices can anchor us over time through concrete actions.
Serenity and Tranquility Work Together
The more we develop our awareness and understanding of the differences between serenity and tranquility, the more they fuse and dance together. Our inner world will become influenced by our outer world, and our external world will start reflecting the state of our inner world.
This is not to say that they become the same. We will always face unwanted noise and disturbance. Sometimes this will disrupt our tranquility, and other times it will destroy our serenity. But we can fill our toolbox with options to draw from that can help us ride out life’s storms, hang in there when things are tough, and come back to ourselves in time.
Do you recognise this difference between serenity and tranquility? Would you say one comes more easily to you than the other?