serendipitous moments

How to make the most of serendipity

You’ve probably heard stories about chance encounters that have led to someone finding true love, going on an exciting and life-altering adventure or landing a dream job. Perhaps they turned a corner and ran slap-bang into their soul mate; maybe they had the opportunity of a lifetime land in their lap. However they occur, these moments seem to come out of the blue and often in response to an unspoken plea for something to happen to help us achieve our dreams or reinvigorate our lives. These amazing opportunities are often referred to as serendipity, happy coincidence or moments of pure luck.

Serendipity is usually defined as the gift of making fortunate discoveries by accident. The word “serendipity” was coined by 18th century English author Horace Walpole after a former name for Sri Lanka — Serendip — and was inspired by The Three Princes of Serendip, a Persian fairytale in which the heroes have the ability to make desirable but unsought-for discoveries.

These happy coincidences happen more often than you think, opening up opportunities and bringing good fortune and even love, but only if you are paying attention and are willing to follow through. Serendipity isn’t the passive action you might imagine it to be, whereby exactly what you need or want lands fortuitously in your lap without effort. For serendipitous moments to really make an impact in your life, you have to act on them, making sure that these offered gifts are fully utilised and your good fortune maximised. Good luck is not something that is simply left to the gods or fate; it is something you can control through your own behaviour, particularly if you want to effect real change in your life.

According to research being conducted primarily in the UK, lucky or serendipitous people generate their own good fortune by virtue of the way they view life. Dr Richard Wiseman, psychologist and author of The Luck Factor, set out 10 years ago to study those people we consider “lucky”. He found that such people utilise four basic principles in their lives:

  • They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities.
  • They make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition.
  • They create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations.
  • They adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.


Wiseman also highlighted the significance of being open to new opportunities by studying people who consider themselves to be “unlucky”. He found that these people share characteristics that lessen their opportunities. Unlucky individuals, he discovered, are often more stressed and anxious than others, missing out on opportunities and the happy coincidences we call serendipity because they are unable to notice much of what is going on around them.

When you are preoccupied, frustrated or angry, your mind is not open to the people and things around you. There may be many missed opportunities, friendships and lovers that could have enriched your life, if only you’d been aware of their presence. So in order to maximise instances of serendipity in your life, you need to reduce your sense of anxiety and open yourself up to life. Opening yourself up is about learning how to become less self-focused. It’s about listening to those around you and learning, thinking and being interested in what is happening and what is being said. It’s about noticing where you need to focus your time and attention to allow success and happiness to blossom, and it’s about being generous, curious and enthusiastic about life.

So how do we apply the principles of serendipity when we seem to be too busy to spend the time even thinking about life, let alone acting on it?


Create calm

Many of us experience stress and anxiety at some time or other, and often for extended periods of time. Sometimes you may simply have too much to do, and your plans are thrown into turmoil because of unexpected events. Or maybe you’re too frantic to slow down and react appropriately and with humour to the fact that life is always going to present challenges. If you want to remain calm and open — which will have a positive effect on your physical wellbeing and also allow you to access serendipitous moments — you need to practise methods that ease the tension in your body and mind.

Breathing slowly and deeply, disassociating yourself emotionally from situations and being flexible are sure-fire ways to allow you to experience life more fully. Go for a walk or soak in a bath. Spend time each day looking after your mental wellbeing through meditation, writing down the things that have upset and pleased you during the day, or playing with a pet. It’s important to cultivate a more relaxed attitude to the hurdles of life, because most of them aren’t “life or death”, they are merely inconvenient or annoying.

According to Wiseman, we are more open to what is in front of us when we are more relaxed. Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else and too busy worrying about the time, the list of chores still to be done and what’s going to happen tomorrow. Living in the moment not only allows you to experience more of life, it also opens up a whole world of people and events you may have rushed by because you were far too busy or upset.



Take risks

Another crucial aspect of accessing or capitalising on serendipity is the need to cultivate moments for these happy coincidences to happen, in order to take advantage of them. When you address your sense of anxiety and stress, you become more comfortable and in control of yourself and your life, and you’re more likely to take risks. However, taking risks doesn’t mean investing money in high-stakes ventures or putting yourself in peril; it’s more about varying your routine, chatting to strangers and keeping the thought in mind, “What’s the worst that can happen if I do this?”

According to Wiseman, lucky people do these things all the time: they take a different route to work; they get their groceries at a supermarket they wouldn’t normally go to; they take the plunge at social functions to meet new people; and they chat to strangers, either at work, on the bus or in a queue. Basically, they aren’t afraid to put themselves out there.


Dream a little

Knowing what you want from life and having dreams is a requisite for recognising serendipity when it happens. If you drift around, uncertain of what it is you need or want in order to lead a fulfilling life, it is impossible to recognise the right opportunities when they present themselves. Keeping your dreams in mind and being passionate about them draws like-minded people to you and keeps you in tune with the relevant things going on. Look and listen, and you’ll be amazed at how many people are out there willing to help you achieve your dreams.

Talking about ourselves is something many of us are uncomfortable doing because we imagine it will make us seem arrogant or vain. However, if you don’t let others know what you want, need and dream about, you close any number of doors to achieving happiness and success. Success means different things to different people, so it’s necessary to be clear about what it means to you. Helping others achieve their dreams also benefits your own quest, because generosity and knowledge draw others to you.



Open your heart and mind

Most of us think we operate in the world with an open heart and open mind, yet when things don’t work out the way we want them to, we can often react badly. Going into situations with our prejudices and expectations intact will only serve to block us from moments of serendipity that may occur.

Your expectations may block you from serendipitous moments because you are looking for one outcome when another outcome, which may be better, could be in the offing. Having expectations of what is going to happen also increases your sense of disappointment and frustration when things don’t turn out the way you wanted or expected them to. When you are inflexible about outcomes, you may fail to see that perhaps what has happened is actually for the best and that maybe this new outcome has opened a door you didn’t realise was there.

It’s also important to remember that appearances can be deceptive. Leave your prejudices, however deep they may be buried in your subconscious, at the door. We tend to judge others too quickly by the way they look, avoiding potentially fabulous moments because we’re afraid or scornful. Opening up your mind to new opportunities and happy coincidences also includes shucking old habits and ways of thinking.


Recognise the silver lining

Not every opportunity presented through serendipity is going to work out exactly the way you want or the way it had promised, but it’s important that you take something from each experience. Every moment is a learning opportunity; everyone you meet can — and should — contribute something to your understanding of the world and yourself. You can glean much wisdom by choosing to turn disappointments into something positive.


Tap into your resilience

Resilience is something we all have, but it is difficult when we are too stressed to tap into this reservoir of strength. Resilience helps us to move forward, to be optimistic, calm and, ultimately, successful. Being able to turn things around creates new ways of thinking, opportunities and confidence. In order to take advantage of serendipitous moments, all of these characteristics are needed.



Trust your intuition

We all have intuition, but many of us either don’t listen to it or don’t feel confident enough to follow our instincts. It’s important to use your intuition, as it works hand in hand with serendipity.

Intuition is an inner knowing that comes from experience and truth. It’s a shift of awareness deep in your consciousness that gives a sense of the inherent truth of a situation or person. Your “gut feeling” about a person or situation is an example of intuition at work, and acting on it can often save you a good deal of grief.

However, like any skill, intuition is lost if it isn’t used, as is your access to the wonderful things that serendipity can bring to your life. Learning to trust your intuition simply takes practice, and you should remember that you do use it every day; in your work life, for example, you may often make decisions this way. It’s just a matter of extending this skill to other situations.


Learn from the best

Often the best way to learn something is from someone who already seems to know how to do it. Observing the people you know and meet who seem to embody the traits we’ve been talking about can give you an idea of how to put serendipity theory into practice. Notice what these people are doing and assess it in relation to the things you normally do — or don’t do — in the same situations. Think about the outcomes of their behaviour and the benefits that seem to have come from it.

One of the most daunting scenarios for many of us is to walk into a room full of strangers and have to strike up a conversation. This situation can make even the most confident soul nervous; suddenly we become tongue-tied and even the most basic conversation-starter seems to allude us. Watching other people “work a room” is a great way to pick up the techniques they use to start and maintain conversations. Many of us shy away from small talk, imagining it is inane and makes us sound unoriginal, but small talk can lead to big things. It’s easier to start a conversation about the weather, the reason for the function or what someone’s wearing than it is to plunge immediately into bigger topics.

Serendipity can change your life in ways you may never have dared to dream; it’s just a matter of remembering to welcome these moments into your life and to make the most of them.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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