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Week 5: "Allow for Serendipity"?

Anne Dalke's picture

At the end of The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz says that the way to increase satisfaction is to "allow for serendipity."
What do you think of that advice?  What role has serendipity played in your life?

ygao's picture

i believe in serendipity

I used to think of serendipity as an excuse for people who just give up what they wanted just because they don't have the guts to fight for it until the end. They can simply quit and say, "hey, i just don't have the serendipity with this thing, might as well stop fighting with fate." But as time goes by, I think of serendipity as more than an excuse for quitters, but also a very amusing phenomenon. I think serendipity is a form of coincidence that happens for a reason. We can call it fate. There are things in life we cannot control, but instead of using serendipity as an excuse, we should allow for serendipity and take it into account when we encounter a coincidence. In this way, we could be happier to witness a coincidence than feeling nothing at all. Personally I believe serendipity is an amazing thing. Yes, there are times in my life I wished fate could rearrange the times and places I could have been at. But mostly I thank serendipity for bringing all that I have encountered in life. I believe it brings me good causes and challenges. I believe things happen for a reason, serendipity or not.

Anne Dalke's picture

Two relevant articles

...about choice-making, one I keep meaning to mention, and one I keep mentioning, in class:
Karen Heller (in The Philadelphia Inquirer): "The urge to buy turns on ethics"; and
Maureen Dowd (The New York Times): "Blue Is the New Black"
(about the increasing unhappiness of women,
due to "our newfound abundance of choices....")
....what do you think??

avietgirl's picture

allowing serendipity

I think that we do allow serendipity in our life, but that's because there is no way to prevent. We would like to think that we can control the outcome but we really can't. So instead, we just just let it happens. After all, there are many scientific discovery that are accidentally discovered. I think that as a maximizer, I try to do what is best but if serendipity occurs, it's all right. Because by definition serendipity is define as unexpected fortune. I guess, I might be confused by the word, but to my extend of understanding, if I plan something, and something better happened, why wouldn't I be happy about it? 

Jessica's picture

balancing serendipity and the drive to move forward

For me, the past has been all about making progress since I happened to move to the U.S. and had to learn a new language. I came here about five years ago, so the past five years have been adapting to the new surroundings and culture. I honestly think there wasn't a lot of serendipity in my life the past few years since I was always challenged to learn and adjust to new things. However, these days, I do find myself appreciating a lot of things, from our gorgeous campus to amazing people and classes. I feel like I've been leaving a lot of space in my life to allow for serendipity. Everyday, there are so many "gifts" that are presented to me.

I believe that balancing serendipity and drive to make progress is important. If I am always too satisfied with everything, whether bad or good, I would consequently tend to settle with whatever I have. Without the drive to move forward, I would always remain the same. On the other hand, if I'm always driven to make everything better, then I would never be able to find small and big joys in my life.

Serendip Visitor's picture

I think when Schwartz says we

I think when Schwartz says we need to allow for serendipity he means we can't try to control everything. I think hes trying to say that we should allow for serendipity to take its course, instead of being a maximizer and trying to control everything. This is great advice. THe maxamizers I deal with in my life are always trying to do the best or most fun thing, like find the most fun party to go to. This happened to me last week, while at a concert. One of my friends couldn't stay in one place and would keep walking around, and then wanted to go check out another party. I was completely fine where I was, maybe it wasn't the happiest I could be but I was content and having a good time already where I was, and wouldn't leave with him to go find the next best thing. I think people have a problem if they can't simply enjoy where they are, physically or mentally, and just chill. Or allow for serendipity.

jtm715's picture


 I find the idea of serendipity is interesting, and it reminds me of the article we read from the Times about believing that random occurrences are all part of some greater meaning. And just as I said when we talked about the article, I believe that serendipity happens, but only when I don't think too far into it. With the article, I said that I am superstitious about wearing specific clothing before regattas, but at the same time I realize that the whole idea that wearing the same sports bra will make the boat win is a little crazy. I've always believed in serendipity, and thought that if a person has something bad happen to them, they'll also have something good happen so it will even out. If I actually think about it, the idea seems ridiculous, but I can't help still hoping it's true.

pbrodfue's picture

class data


Maximization, Regret and Happiness Comparison
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rshen's picture

...So I can have my satisfaction. satisfaction.

I have been over analyzing this forum topic for far too long. "Allowing for serendipity" just seems like a given to me. Throughout most of this life guide I felt a mix of agitation and agreement. Apparently, people are obsessing over every little choice, but hey, what happened to prioritizing? For instance, I like jeans, don't get me wrong. And I have short legs that are a bit of a hassle to find good jeans that make me feel comfortable. But that's why I buy my jeans at one store in the same size. I'm not going to every single manufacturer of jeans and agonizing over new styles. Hey, if it works why would I change it? If I go to the mall for jeans, I can be out of there in a half hour and the mental break down is avoided. And if for any reason, I'm in the mall freaking out over shirts, or some article of clothing that I like a little variation in, I'd like to think that I can just leave. If I'm not enjoying a shopping trip with my mom/friends/etc. I usually just leave.

I just assumed this was standard practice.


Anyways, "allowing for serendipity" increases satisfaction. Well, yeah, I can relate, in fact when I read this I am groaned out loud.

I'd like to think I have absolute control over what effects me and what doesn't. Everything that happens to us is how we perceive it. On crummy days, this becomes more or less my mantra.

It's raining; that's out of my control.

I have back to back classes that last three hours. That was once in my control when I scheduled my classes that way, but now I've got to sit through them.

These might be fixed, but I'm not obligated to feel any which way about them. I don't agree that increasing satisfaction is done by an other worldly force. But I can understand that we have to be in control of our feelings to appreciate serendipity. 


I have an optimistic attitude that if I want to feel happy I can feel happy. I know as I'm writing this, this is very idealistic, but still, when did the human race become such zombies stuck in the same patterns?



Annagibs's picture

I'd rather have a reward than a happy accident

For me, serendipity is a nice thing, but it is not as rewarding as well-deserved happiness.  I'd rather have a tangible reward or a stress-free weekend then something merely given to me by happenstance.  My values may reflect my Protestant upbringing, but I'd rather work for my happiness than rely on the hopefully continued good mood of whoever is deciding my fate.  Not that I'm ungrateful.  Lots of happy things have happened to me by happenstance--meeting my current boyfriend for one.  However, it certainly was not love at first sight.  The relationship, like all things in life, had to be worked at.  I am proud of my growth and my new knowledge about human interactions that I have gained from being involved with him.  Serendipity offered me the opportunity for happiness; I assured it. In my life, Serendipity has been a launching pad into wide worlds of unattainable goals attained, new knowledge acquired, and new friends met.  However, it wasn't the happy accident that I attribute to my pleasure with these circumstances; it's my diligence, insight, and humility that has gotten me what I truly desire out of my life. So, no, I don't believe Serendipity offers more life-satisfaction; I believe Serendipity is another word for opportunity. 

nbagaria's picture

Allowing for serendipity?


The word( serendip ) derives from Swarnadip, the Sanskrit language name for Sri Lanka,[2] and was coined by Horace Walpole on 28 January 1754 in a letter he wrote to his friend Horace Mann (not the same man as the famed American educator), an Englishman then living in Florence. The letter read,
"It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon's, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table."
(Source: Wikipedia)
   Thus, from the above definition, it seems to me that serendipity is nothing more than luck or good fortune. However, it is not fortune that one is expecting or waiting for.
   If I judge my life according to this interpretation then I can safely say that most of my life cannot be described as “serendipitous”, for I have waited for good fortune to come my way. I waited for college, I waited for my final grades, I waited with bated breath to see if I would be accepted into Bryn Mawr and now I am waiting for so many other things to come my way. Yet, even in my state of “non-serendipity” I have always been “serendipitous” as I was neither expecting to get into Bryn Mawr nor hoping that I would be able to achieve anything that I had set out to do. So, the very word is ambiguous and maybe even slightly deceiving as almost everyone is waiting for good luck without believing that they will ever have it. Maybe, being “serendipitous” is a part of who we are. So, allowing for serendipity is essentially allowing us to be ourselves, to be human. This makes me wonder, is there really anything as allowing for serendipity? Aren’t we all already “serendipitous”?


ED's picture

All this cognition = big headache

To be honest, thinking about this is really giving me a headache. So I am going to get it out of my system here.

Not to talk about myself ("egotistical teenager," I know), but in general I've suffered a lot of anxiety from being overly-cognisent of things. I went through a phase during which everything I chose everything I ate purely based on how good it was for me and if it made complete protein/nutrients. I vividly remember having no sense of what I actually wanted or thought would taste yummy, because nothing was desirable if it wasn't healthy. Those foods scared me too much. I never ate dessert (unless you count plain yogurt with honey and hemp protein). I was only concerned with "what I needed/what would make me healthiest." It was very matter of fact to me: why doesn't everyone just eat like this? Why don't people always do what is probably best for them?


I've relaxed a lot since then. I realized that there are plenty of healthy, attractive people out there eating cake everyday and not dying. Perhaps I can adapt this metaphor to other controllable scenarios in life.


For example, I really am working on finding a balance between maximizing and satisficing with school and school work. Perhaps other college students-- particularly those Bryn Mawr women who are so eager to make a meaningful contribution to the world-- are in the same boat. I am not sure how I feel about having a choice in what I learn or what I academically produce. I mean, it's great because I can choose what I am interested in-- but then I realize some people don't do that at all. Some people choose based on what will make them "most successful." When I realize this, my maximizer kicks in. My satisfizer instinct protests: Isn't there supposed to be some kind of inherent talent or interest that guides every individual to do what is right for him/her? Or is school an area in which one can choose? Of course, these two questions lead to more (time consuming) questions: how hard and for how long should I think about what is "optimal" to do? By whose standard am I deciding what is "optimal"? Will I do better in a class if I spend a lot of time really, really thinking about one reading or if I decide to quickly read all five of the reading assignments? Is it best to take pre-law or pre-med requirements "just incase", even if I'm not sure that is where my interests lie? Should I spend the whole of Saturday getting ahead in my work, or rebooting? How often do I need to "reboot"? Is procrastinating ever acceptable?


I forget I am human sometimes, but sometimes being human isn't good enough for the standards I set. I know I am ultimately always going to be a very happy, observant person who can drop everything for a day and just go for a walk and enjoy what I see-- but it is almost because of that that I want to push myself harder. 


Now I am left with the choice of whether to be a maximizer or a satisficer in school (in life). Great.


Question: are there people out there who cannot/do not experience serendipity? Does one need both extremes (serendipity and intense control) do find balance between the two, or do some people just not feel either extreme and stay somewhere in the middle?

Lydia Jessup's picture


 Serendipity: “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident” -


         When Schwarts says to “allow for serendipity,” he does not mean that one should try to force serendipity or actively look for desirable accidental discoveries.  He means that one should permit oneself to happen upon them.  The maximizers he describes do not often allow for serendipity because they are so caught up in planning everything out and sticking to their schedule or goal that they often miss opportunities along the way.  I think that Schwartz is encouraging us to slow down, think about our choices, but so as not to be overwhelmed by them, take them as they come.  This does not sit back and let life come to you.  Often “desirable discoveries” are presented while being active and involved in something else.  Opportunities are often presented, but we are not looking for them or haven’t learned to recognize them.  This sometimes entails taking a chance that could end in an undesirable discovery, but I think the risk is worth it.

         Over the past few years I have become better at allowing for serendipity.  I have discovered that happening upon “desirable discoveries” is not always because of luck. It is about being spontaneous, curious, and open to situations and opportunities.  College is the perfect opportunity for this: go to the club meeting because there will be free food; go to a party because a cute guy you know is going; take the brochure from the group standing on the street corner; go to a performance because you’ve never heard of the group before…

I once had a teacher who would frequently ask us is we had seen anything beautiful that day.  We were busy students who had been rushing from class to class and doing our homework in our little spare time.  We had not paused to notice a tree that morning, the sunrise, the wind ripple the grass, or a passing cloud.  As he continued to ask us this question I began to notice more beautiful things around me.  Allowing for serendipity is a similar concept – we just need to open our eyes.

pxie's picture


 I absolutely agree with Maiya that serendipity occurs randomly and is out of our control. If serendipity means “unexpected happiness”, I believe nobody will resist it since everyone wants to be happy. However, relating to the book, I think the author talk about the serendipity in regard of making a choice. He encourages people to be satisfiers who always have lower expectations and thus are less likely to disappoint. If something good happens to a satisfier’s decision, they consider it as a “serendipity”, which will make them happier than maximizer even if they make the same decision. I would say I agree with the author’s idea of being a satisfier, though his suggestion of limiting choices to only two sounds impossible for me. I choose to agree with him because of my own shopping experience. Before I decided to my latest cell phone, I did a lot of research online: I read all the comments, watched all the clips about its functions and compared its price from different online stores. I was pretty sure that it would be the best fit for me. However, after I used it for a month, I found it worthless despite of its fancy appearance. I chose my digit camera in a simpler way. I knew I liked it at first sight so I decided to buy it. I had no idea of all the functions of it when I bought it. But now it is working quite well, which is “serendipity” for me, I guess.  I think what the author try to tell us is that people should simply limit their choices and be happy with whatever choice they have made.

hlehman's picture

Serendipity Love

 When I think about this question, it reminds of a conversation we were having the other day in class about coincidence.  Serendipity is all about positive coincidences and I agree with Schwartz.  Although I think there are many other ways to increase satisfaction in life, by allowing oneself to be open to serendipity and coincidences and simply “go with the flow,” it will make you happier and life better.  I think that being open to new change and letting things work out on their own/ without interference is something that is very hard to do, but would make someone more satisfied in life because then you don’t have to fight the impossible.  Not controlling every minute/ always having a plan is often difficult for people, especially when things don’t go as planned.  I am somewhat of a perfectionist/ control freak at times, so I know firsthand that serendipity is not easy to achieve all the time, but when I think about it, some of the best experiences I have had have been random, unplanned events and times when my friends and I weren’t even trying to do something fun.  Personally, I love coincidences.  I love random events.  I love serendipity and the freedom and mystery it provides!

lkuswanto's picture


Honestly, I don't know if i should categorize myself as maximizer or satisfier. I do look for choices and go through every single options. I always look for the best option before deciding something but after I decided on something, I have never regretted doing it. I am always contended with things in my life and is always grateful for everything that has happened (i know i sound so religious, but I do feel that way!). I am always satisfied with my decisions.

As for allowing serendipity, I always believe in it. There are things in life that happens by chance, and the fact that it happens for a good reason makes you extremely happy and grateful about your life. There are many things in my life that I consider as serendipity. But, I also believe that things happen for a purpose.

For instance, since my first day in Bryn Mawr, I have been experiencing serendipities. The current one is about my social security card. I had a terrible day on Friday but I received my social security number which totally made my day. If I do not have my social security number by this week, my employer (Uncommon Ground) will cut off my employment. It was supposed to arrive in two weeks' time but I received mine earlier.

I know some people will disagree with me when I considered that as serendipity, but having serendipities in life will definitely makes you feel more satisfied with your life (I second Schwartz). There are serendipities in your life but it depends whether you want to consider them and be thankful for it or just ignore them. I will definitely cherish every serendipity I have in life because it totally makes me feel contended with my life. Serendipity has helped me to be grateful for things that have happened and be more satisfied with my life.

Sharaai's picture

Allow For Serendipity


                I think that by "allowing for serendipity", Schwartz wants the reader to make their lives better. To not become such maximizers in life that even when a great thing has happened to you, you are still disappointed. I feel like his version of serendipity is more on the choice side than the side of luck. You aren't making yourself more lucky, you are just giving yourself less chances to be disappointed. You are allowing your mind to process smaller amounts of choice, which gets rid of the negative chances by numbers. Allowing for serendipity is allowing yourself to be happy with the decisions you make. I think that his advice to allow for serendipity is one that should be considered by many in their lives. It is a simple state of mind that can help a little, or can change your perspective on everyday events.
                Though my take on serendipity makes it seem as if I am settling for things in life, I feel like I have always allowed serendipity in my life. When I make my decisions, I always try to stay positive about my decisions, whether it have to do with a choice of clothing or even my decision to be at Bryn Mawr.  When I buy something, I tell myself that it was a good decision and that I am happy with it. If a shirt that I buy doesn't fit correctly, I try to make the best of it by still wearing it, or simply altering it. When I feel out of place at Bryn Mawr, I think of the friends I already have and the amazing opportunities that an education from here will provide me. Serendipity is a part of my life and i never really realized it until I really thought about it.
kdlz's picture

 Using the little dictionary

 Using the little dictionary on my mac, serendipity is defined as the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. I somewhat agree with his statement that to increase satisfaction we must allow for serendipity, however, I don't think that we can only rely on 'chance'. I think that we can achieve happiness through a mixture of both chance and planned 'things' (events?) . One example that i can think of right off the top of my head is choosing to come to Bryn Mawr. I think that all the work and effort to apply & get into Bryn Mawr wasn't 'lucky chance' -- everyone got in because they worked hard and made academics a priority. However, for me at least, I think it was 'serendipitous' that I ended up applying to Bryn Mawr. I was talking to my friend (who is a fellow mawrter :D) about college apps, and she raved about bmc and so I looked it up and sort of, on a whim, decided to apply.  I'm sooooo glad that I did because I really really love it here, and I can't really imagine how it would be going somewhere else. So in this case, the lucky chance of talking to my friend and her raving about bmc led me to apply and eventually come here. 

So i somewhat agree that to increase satisfaction is to 'allow for serendipity', however, I don't think that you can only rely on serendipity. If i hadn't worked hard in high school, then the lucky conversation i had with my friend wouldn't have mattered because I wouldn't have gotten in and had the option of coming here. I think that you are mostly in control of your own happiness, and luck plays a very small roll. 

thatcaliforniagirl13's picture

Let Serendipity Come to You

 In the last pages of Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice, he makes a claim that allowing for serendipity makes things more enjoyable. Serendipity is the happiness in making a discovery of something unexpected or accidental. I agree with Schwartz that the spontaneity of something definitely allows it to be more enjoyable. It, however, also depends on the amount of serendipity a person has in their life. Like Ellen, I feel that allowing serendipity and having total control are two extremes. Yes, it feels good knowing that you have some control in your life to make adequate choices, but isn't having too much control a little insane? A little bit of serendipity every now and then can keep a person in balance. Not being too in control, while also allowing those random, yet enjoyable moments to occur in life.

I have to agree with Maiya that serendipity isn't something that shouldn't be searched for, but something that just comes to you. Searching and searching for something and never finding it only distresses the mind. It is better to just let serendipity come to you and when it does, soak it up as much as possible especially because you never know when it will come around your neighborhood once again.

Unlike Katie, I find myself not so excited in finding slips in my mailbox. My mom tends to tell me ahead of time that she's sending me a package. Therefore, when I finally do get the package, I just say, "Oh another package from Mom." The "heads up" from my mom  definitely make receiving something less enjoyable. There is no serendipity in my mail box at this point. Too bad. It will come one day.

Shayna S's picture

Luck is for the Prepared


I must be somewhat of a maximizer. I value hard work as a great factor in luck. I seems to me that the more effort is put into something, the better the results. This logic might seem contradictory to The Paradox of Choice, but I believe that when Schwartz is talking about the anxiety from working on various choices, it is a different kind of work. The excruciating effort he describes in his book that are the cause for people's dissatisfaction appears to be misguided. Work on choice is spread thin because of the copious amounts of choice.  If the same amount of work is directed at only a few choices, as Schwartz indicates, more satisfactory results are perceived. I must agree with those who have stated that allowing for serendipity is to have a certain mindset. Along the same lines of shifting perspectives when working with choice, when one changes the way she looks at a certain event, it can lead to a reevaluation of a situation. If the red ribbon had not been wished for, it may not have seemed like serendipity.

In applying this concept to my own life, I think of this perspective change. Allowing for serendipity in my life would mean a conscious shift in judgment of circumstances. My first tour of this campus seemed like serendipity. Much like the ribbon story, I had just came from Smith. My experience was not what I had hoped for. I wished very badly to like Bryn Mawr, the last school on my list of East Coast college visits. It felt like fate when I walked on campus, but perhaps that was because I had set myself in the position to accept this accidental good fortune. I had just come from a rather bad experience at what had been my first choice school. I had only Smith and Bryn Mawr on the East Coast as my choices (limited choices, focused effort on the decision). Bryn Mawr was my last hope for an East Coast school. Did I set myself up for the unexpected blessing of this campus? Perhaps.


maliha's picture


What I took away from this phrase "allow for serendipity" was that instead of trying to research every choice to death, you should limit the things you have to pick from and then allow the results of the choice to surprise you. There are very few things that I've ever tried to research extensively before making a decision. I think choosing colleges to apply to was the first one that I felt I really had to be sure about because people made such a big deal out of it. But even though I tried to visit colleges and find out all the information I was supposed to about them, I couldn't pay attention to all the little details others in my position seemed so concerned about. I just thought that all those specific questions would be better to ask after you decided to go there, so you didn't have to try to remember the answers from each of 50 different colleges. In the end, I just made kind of a random list and decided that those were the colleges I'm going to apply to, then I'll just see what happens. It turned out well for me, I really like Bryn Mawr and even though I only applied because I liked being able to leave my umbrella at the entrance of the dining hall the one time I visited. Serendipity has worked well in my life, not just in this situation. I don't mean to sound like you can go around not thinking about any of your decisions and everything will be fine. I just think that it wouldn't hurt to be a little less neurotic about those decisions.

Calála's picture

Do we try to create serendipity?

When I read the question this week, I was thinking about what exactly serendipity is and I realized that although I have a working understanding of what this word means, I couldn't actually give a definition. I was happy to see that Maiya had already provided us with a definition. One part of the definition that seems a bit strange to me, however, is how it the word is a faculty for making unexpected pleasant discoveries. I do not really understand how someone can have an aptitude for making accidental discoveries. Isn't it all chance? If we consider Eva's story about the red ribbon again, I can't see how this had anything to do with Eva's ability to experience unexpected happy events. It seems like the red ribbon showed up on the door independently of Eva's actions.

The idea of allowing serendipity also made me think about how most young children are taught about random acts of kindness.When we unexectedly do something nice for someone else, are we maybe helping the other person experience serendipity? I think that by teaching people at a young age that it is important to help others, often anonymously, we are actually teaching children to create serendipity in the world.

Anne Dalke's picture

Peter gets credit

[both for having the idea and making the charts--I am chart-challenged;
but I get credit for getting 'em out there for public discussion].

So: what do you make of these representations of
the data-sets we generated in class on Tuesday?
Can you make out any (confusing? clarifying?) trends?

jrf's picture

These charts seem to show

These charts seem to show that the more we (the ESem participants) maximize, the more regret we experience, but that maximization doesn't seem to have to much of an effect on how we perceive our overall happiness. I'm not sure what to make of that second trend, since Schwartz suggests (and it makes sense to me) that regret is a major cause of decreased happiness and satisfaction. The other half of the chart's conclusion seems to fit well with Schwartz's thoughts, however. Allowing for serendipity seems, to me, to mean spending less time planning and expecting perfection, and making oneself more aware of satisfying, happiness-inducing events and opportunities that we stumble upon. By not expecting our lives to be absolutely fantastic all the time, and not worrying about making them that way, Schwartz says we will learn to be satisfied with what we come across.

I'm a little confused about how to balance this kind of openness with the pursuit of one's life goals-- Schwartz says to pursue the experiences and things that actually make us happy, as opposed to always looking for something better and thinking that we would be happier with what others have, but how should we go about defining what career or other life choices make us happy without some degree of planning and shopping around?

rmilitello's picture


I think that allowing for serendipity does in fact increase happiness. It seems to me that the more you look for happiness the more difficult it is to find. Most of the time I am not satisfied with what I have because I  am always thinking that I could have done something better. Usually when I try and plan things out that will increase my happiness it never works. When something good happens unexpectedly I feel that I am much more grateful for it because I didn't see it coming. I think that allowing for serendipity also allows one to live in the moment and appreciate things as they happen. I know that if I am always thinking about what comes next and what is going to make me happy in the future I forget about what is making me happy in the present. I am the kind of person that always plans things out, I don't seem to want to let serendipity play a role in my life. I feel this constant need for something to happen as soon as I think of it, and what is even worse is I want to know the outcome of things immediately. Though, perhaps if I did not plan things out so much, things may happen that I might not expect, and good surprises are so much more satisfying when they go unspoiled.

ellenv's picture


 I also agree that it depends on the person whether or not they are able to experience serendipity in their life. There are some people who are very intent on controlling every aspect of their life, and because of that, anything out of the ordinary may not be seen in a positive light. On the other hand, there are many people who do not like to live very structured lives and because of that, they can find joy in the smallest things that happen to them in day to day life. Neither of these two extremes is necessarily a preferred on to find yourself in. Even if it is true that we are unhappy when we try to control our lives too much, there are people who only feel comfortable when they are in control of every aspect of their life and so to them, this instances of "serendipity" might not bring about the same feelings as those who live a less structured life. I remember when I was watching a TV show a few years ago and the entire plot line of the episode had somewhat to do with the idea of serendipity. One of the characters wanted to be more spontaneous but in attempting to be spontaneous, they only managed to plan things out more and the result was that they were entirely unhappy. I hope that I can mind the middle ground between allowing for serendipity while at the same time being able to structure my life to some extent.

kgrassle's picture

Keeping an Open Mind

 Based on the definition of serendipity found by Maiya, people should allow serendipity in their lives.  Unexpected happiness reminds people that good things can happen even when they are not in control.  If a person is too worried about making the right choices, she can be too distracted to notice an “unexpected  discovery of happiness”.  I don’t think it is a matter of “allowing” serendipity, but rather being open and attentive to discover it.  Serendipity can also relate to coincidence.  We see coincidence when we look for it, much like we experience serendipity when we are open to it.  For example, in class Eva told us how she found a red ribbon on her door when she had been thinking about how great it would be to wear one with her outfit.  This is coincidence, but also an unexpected happy discovery.  If she had not been observant enough to find the red ribbon, she would have missed her opportunity of serendipity. 

            Serendipity played a role in my life today.  After math class, my roommate and I decided to go to the campus center to check our mailboxes.  I wasn’t expecting any packages, but I found that desired slip of paper in my mailbox telling me I had one.  It turned out that I had gotten an early birthday gift!     

I agree with Maiya that serendipity is a chance occurrence, but people who have a more open outlook on life may find serendipity more often.  It also depends on people’s level of happiness.  If a person does not find joy in finding the perfect hair ribbon, getting a package, or other simple joys of life, then they will experience serendipity less often than others.   

Maiya Zwerling's picture

Can we allow for serendipity?

To answer this question, I thought it might be important to everyone if I supply a definition for serendipity. According to the OED, serendipity is "The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. Also, the fact or an instance of such a discovery".  Serendipity is not just happiness but it is unexpected happiness. Which means it lacks decisions to be happy. The happiness just occurs randomly. I would agree that an unexpected happy thing in my life really does improve my day. After a very hard week in school this week, I received a package from back home with my favorite tea and guitar strings for my guitar. This surprise really did improve my over all mood. Unfortunately, I don’t know many people who don’t allow for serendipity. I guess you could look at everything as a negative thing but random happy things aren’t something that can be avoided. They just happen. I am wondering what he means by increase satisfaction? I think in life happy things improve our daily moods, which could be considered a satisfaction in life. I don’t think you can increase the serendipity of your life though. You’re lucky if good things happen to you. If they don’t it’s basically out of your control. So yes, to answer directly serendipity can make a person happier but people cannot go looking for it. It has to be a chance occurrence. Does anyone else have an idea of how we can allow for serendipity?