Serenity and Inner Peace: Viterbo Serenity Inventory

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Serenity and Inner Peace: Viterbo Serenity Inventory

VITERBO SERENITY INVENTORY

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.

Serenity Prayer

Somewhat surprisingly, there is very little consideration of serenity in all of psychology. Historically psychology has focused on negative behaviors (especially aggression, psychopathology, and mental retardation), but recently there has been an explosion of interest in a more positive approach. “Positive Psychology” (or at least the phrase) was launched in the year 2000, and it rapidly became a cult of sorts. However, positive psychology became preoccupied with the study of happiness and hedonic well-being (as in “he who dies with the most toys is the winner”). In addition, positive psychology soon became extremely commercialized (that is, a few people made a lot of money promoting and “selling psychology”, and some still are attempting to do so). Further, the endless pursuit of happiness often meant that understandable anxiety or depression in the face of life events all too often led to unrealistic expectations and prescription medications rather than dealing with the root problems. A recent search of Amazon.com for books concerning “happiness” yielded 424,290 hits. A similar search for “serenity” yielded 117,510 hits. However, many of them dealt with massage parlors, a porn star named Serenity, serene photography, and the movie titled “Serenity” that didn’t have much to do with serenity. Removing less than relevant (although sometimes quite amusing) topics resulted in only 721 hits concerning serenity and inner peace.

There has been a bit of controversy lately in positive psychology concerning hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. While there is general agreement that hedonic pursuits involve seeking happiness and pleasure, there is less agreement about the actual meaning of the term eudaimonia. Literally translated from Greek, it apparently involves such components as “good life, flourishing, thriving, well-being, spirit or minor deity, wellbeing, and virtue”. The ancient philosophers (including Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and Epicurus) discussed but apparently couldn’t agree upon the true essence of eudaimonia, and present-day psychologists and philosophers aren’t doing much better (although several are certainly trying). Some have even argued that hedonic and eudaimonic well-being are essentially the same thing, and as a result positive psychology’s preoccupation with happiness is justifiable, while others strongly disagree. Given the lack of agreement about the true meaning of eudaimonia, I’m inclined in my own life to focus primarily on “serenity”. Eudaimonia and serenity appear to share many common components, the general public is much more familiar with and interested in the concept of serenity, and at least one can probably spell and pronounce “serenity” correctly. A quick search of the internet yielded five or six different ways that “experts” pronounce eudaimonia. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of ancient Greeks hanging around to advise us concerning correct pronunciation. You may prefer “you-day-moan-ia”, but to each his/her own. To be perfectly honest, I thought about putting the term “eudaimonia” in the title of this article partly to impress the reader, but thought better of it. By the way, many are inclined to think that happiness is from time to time a by-product of serenity.

Although psychology has pretty much ignored serenity and inner peace, there is considerable emphasis concerning serenity among chemically dependent individuals in recovery. For example, many members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) consider the “Serenity Prayer” to be their “official prayer”. Popular AA quotes include “one day at a time”, “live for today”, “let go and let God”, “easy does it”, and avoid becoming “hungry, angry, lonely, and tired” (“HALT”). Further, the “AA Promises” (see Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939) state that sobriety will bring serenity and inner peace, a new freedom and a new happiness, interest in our fellows, intuitive ability to handle situations which used to baffle us, that self-pity and self-seeking will slip away, and that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. One could argue that all of these promises are directly or indirectly associated with serenity. There is also research and literature related to serenity in the nursing field. Other than psychometric analysis with Kay Robert’s Serenity Scale, and use with organ transplant recipients and the terminally ill, there doesn’t seem to be much more. Several philosophical/spiritual eastern orientations also emphasize serenity and inner peace and have been for centuries, especially Buddhism and proponents of the mindfulness approach. From the perspective of Christianity, the Franciscan tradition emphasizes many components of serenity including hospitality, integrity, service, stewardship, contemplation, silence, appreciation of beauty, humility, simplicity, and inner peace. While the Ten Commandments tell how not to live our lives, the Beatitudes appear to be about how we ought to be living our lives and living life well (eudaimonia) and serenity. In short, this article represents sort of a shotgun approach in the study of serenity and inner peace. One can usually find something of value in taking a multiplicity of approaches or sources, rather than dogmatically focusing on only one perspective.

Taking the above rather extensive literature into consideration, a list of 130 statements was developed that reflected serenity and inner peace. Subsequent psychometric research and statistical analysis with approximately 220 subjects resulted in the “Viterbo Serenity Inventory”, a serenity questionnaire that is presented at the end of this section. Adding your ratings for all 24 of the items will reveal your total serenity score. Adding items labeled I, II, III, and IV will reveal your score for each of the four factors or components revealed by our research. The factor labels (“Higher Power”, “Harmony”, “Positivity” and “Lifestyle”) are labels that were chosen because they seemed to be the best fit for the items. The “norms” below (average and ranges for a fairly broad sample of subjects) give you an idea of how you compare with a fairly broad sample of subjects. Research (mine and others) has not to date revealed significant differences for serenity scores by gender (males and females are pretty similar) nor by type of subjects sampled (college students, people in recovery, internet subjects, etc.) nor by educational level. There do however appear to be moderate increases with age (both for total serenity and for the individual factors).

FACTOR AVERAGE ROUGHLY

2/3 OF SUBJECTS

TOTAL 80 70 – 90

I. HIGHER POWER 17 11 – 23

II. HARMONY 18 14 – 22

III. POSITIVITY 24 20 – 28

IV. LIFESTYLE 23 19 – 27

The scale has been used in workshops and classes with many different groups, and participants found it especially useful to look for “low” scores on the individual factors if they wish to look for areas in which they might improve their overall serenity score. For example, of the initial subjects who completed the final 24-item Serenity Inventory, the individual who scored the lowest for Total Serenity (standardized score of -2.27, roughly the 1st percentile) scored very low for Positivity (standardized score of -3.38, well below the 1st percentile), somewhat low for Higher Power (standardized score of -1.65, roughly the 5th percentile) and Lifestyle (standardized score of -1.36, roughly the 10th percentile), and slightly above average for Harmony (standardized score of +.15, roughly the 55th percentile). That individual might do very well focusing efforts first and foremost on Positivity in his or her life, and then on Higher Power and Lifestyle.

VITERBO SERENITY INVENTORY

Please use the following rating scale:

1 2 3 4 5

Strongly Disagree Agree Strongly Agree

_____1. I worship a higher power more than other people. (I)

_____2. When experiencing stress or pressure I am able to find my inner peace. (II)

_____3. At times I am very active; at times I am into rest and relaxation. (IV)

_____4. I have a number of good friends. (IV)

_____5. I enjoy learning new things. (III)

_____6. If I know I cannot change something, I let it go. (II)

_____7. No one is perfect (not even me). (III)

_____8. I believe a higher power determines most of my actions. (I)

_____9. Spirituality ties things together and gives meaning to everything else in one’s life. (I)

_____10. Altruism (doing for others) is an important part of my life. (III)

_____11. I communicate with a higher power at least once a day. (I)

_____12. I do not avoid contact with others who are suffering. (III)

_____13. I am more likely to cooperate with others rather than to compete. (III)

_____14. When I think about spirituality, my foremost concern is a connection to something larger than myself. (I)

_____15. I have an inner sense of harmony. (II)

_____16. There are different solutions to any problem, not just one perfect solution. (III)

_____17. It is great to be outdoors. (IV)

_____18. I am able to deal with whatever comes my way. (II)

_____19. I enjoy being in contact often with nature. (IV)

_____20. I engage in some form of prayer or meditation activity on a regular basis. (I)

_____21. When I do well, I pat myself on the back. (IV)

_____22. I do not tend to be very hard on myself. (II)

_____23. I am able to accept the things I cannot change. (II)

_____24. I regularly like to relax, pray or meditate. (IV)

My recently revised book (Floody, 2011) revolves rather loosely around the above empirically demonstrated four factors or components of serenity, and ways of possibly enhancing them. This is an introductory article of sorts, a summary of the first part of the book, and the plan is to submit several additional articles that summarize what I found concerning the four components of serenity and inner peace.

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