When I was in graduate school, I got a tattoo across my arm – “serenity.” It is scripted, and so often people ask what it says, and then still seem puzzled when I respond. For me, the meaning is twofold.
First, I had found a sort of peace and calm through meditation and mindfulness that I had never known before. I strive to find that peace and calm whenever I can. I try to build in comfort , and make time to find peace in my own mind.
Secondly, I was inspired by the spirit of the “serenity prayer.” If you are not familiar, it goes like this:
“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.” -Reinhold Niebuhr
In an effort to feel in control of my own life, I had been exerting an enormous amount of effort trying to control things around me. For me the struggle wasn’t necessarily with substance use, as it is typically reserved for, but with the acceptance of what I did not have the power to control. Through accepting that you cannot control the decisions of others, or the weather, or traffic, a sort of calm and peace can emerge.
You may try to challenge yourself – identify a situation in which you are trying to have control when you actually do no. One typical example is road rage when you are stuck in traffic. It seems common for people to become overly upset about traffic patterns, but becoming upset does not change the outcome at all. Your anger, whether expressed internally or externally, does not the make the car in front of you go any faster. In a sense, this is wasted energy that you could be using in a more positive way. What is one way you could exert what control you do have over the situation to make it more positive? For the traffic example, you may choose to find a song you love to sing along with (try the link for a list of some ideas), and play it with the windows down to enjoy the breeze. You may pick a podcast or audiobook that you really enjoy (see links for some of my favorites to get started). You can step back from the situation, recognize where you do have control, and choose to make it a positive experience.
For me, my tattoo is a constant reminder to check my need for control. What do I have control over in this situation? What do I not have control over? How can I direct my energy towards something that will bring me joy instead of choosing frustration and misery? We can make the most out of this life by choosing happiness.