What are the origins of the Serenity Prayer?

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

It was debated for years who wrote the Serenity Prayer, and its origins are still somewhat murky, but it seems most likely to have been written by Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, a well-known theologian who served for many years as Dean and Professor of Applied Christianity at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. G.S.O.’s Archives can provide more information about this prayer’s historical origins upon request.

Alcoholics Anonymous became aware of the Serenity Prayer in 1941, when it was discovered printed in the New York Tribune newspaper. Ruth Hock, AA’s first secretary and a non-alcoholic, was immediately taken with it. The headquarters staff thought of printing the prayer on a card to distribute to AA members.

On June 12, 1941, Ruth wrote Henry S., a Washington, D.C.-based AA member and printer by profession, saying:

“One of the boys up here got a clipping from a local newspaper which is so very much to the point and so much to their liking, that they have asked me to find out from you what it would cost to set it up on a small card, something like a visiting card, which can be carried in a wallet… here it is…would appreciate it if you would let me know right away.”

Henry answered back immediately and enthusiastically:

“…Your cards are on the way and my congratulations to the man who discovered that in the paper. I can’t recall any sentence that packs quite the wallop that that does and during the day shown it to the A.A.’s that dropped in and in each case have been asked for copies. I sent you 500 copies in as much as you didn’t say how many you wanted. If you need any more, let me know. Incidentally, I am only a heel when I’m drunk, I hope, so naturally there could be no charge for anything of this nature.”

Ruth responded again on June 17, and wrote:

“Your generous response to my request for the little cards is certainly much appreciated by us all up here. Glad so many of you down there liked it too, for it backs me up in my feeling that it really has ‘something.’”