I see so many great posts of vacations and outings in Facebook bearing the "having the time of my life" description. So many of these purported "best days" are specially planned times when friends and family relax and enjoy themselves in beautiful environments doing what people of all ages do best -- having fun together. Pleasant times are welcome relief in a stressful world, but are these really the "best days" of our lives in terms of quality?
I guess that depends upon the individual; however, I am certain many of us experience our "best days" without much fanfare, and, to be truthful, no real comprehension of just how "good" the days were at the time they occur. In other words, we live many life-defining times without the slightest conscious determination of their great importance in our lives. The realization of their importance comes with perspective, some of which may come years or even decades after these encounters.
I am speaking of the times we look back upon and realize they contained moments that structured and altered our lives in the most meaningful manner. We all have such experiences that strike the core of our understanding and leave us with new perspectives and new challenges. And, isn't it amazing how the simplest word, deed, or action can strike us with enough force to shake our minds and our souls? These things often define our being.
Not all of my best days felt pleasant at the time. Many even hurt me with the sting of raw reality, yet even the nasty marks from those times turned into momentous scars of my greatest victories. I contend the best days of my life were not celebratory and fun, but are fateful encounters with the "right thing" at the "right time."
I sincerely believe my best days occurred when others initiated the interventions. On rare occasions, the others involved structured their actions although most often spontaneity birthed the blessings. I would like to think I had some control over their circumstances, yet, in most cases, that would be inaccurate. Serendipity struck deep chords in my perception of the meaning of life.
Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; a fortunate mistake. Specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate.
The first noted use of "serendipity" in the English language was by Harace Walpole (1717–1797). In a letter to Horace Mann (dated 28 January 1754) he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of." The name stems from Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon), from Arabic Sarandib, which was adopted from Sanskrit Simhaladvipa which means "dwelling-place-of-lions island."
Newton's discovery of the law of gravitation was a result of serendipity. The accidental fall of the apple made him discover the law of gravitation. Such discoveries, merely by accident and not as a result of serious study are the results of serendipity.
It seems nature, fate, the Man Upstairs, and acquaintances combined to create the serendipity that accounted for my best days. My fortunes literally "turned on a dime" in such times. Pardon the cliched pun.
So, despite the importance of serendipity, we can do nothing to increase the chances of having such encounters. Or can we? Social psychologists who have studied why some people are “luckier” than others have discovered that it is possible to cultivate thoughts, connections and behaviors that help increase, or at least allow one to take advantage of serendipitous occurrences.
Colleen Seifert, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has introduced a concept she calls "predictive encoding" that describes the first step toward preparing for serendipity when it arises.
Seifert knows that research has shown that most people aren’t very good at remembering information or intentions when they need them most. He suggests that by imagining scenarios where intentions and desires might be fulfilled, the mind is encoded for immediately recognizing opportunities that will assist in reaching those goals. Thus, when opportunity does knock, the chances of successfully realizing and taking advantage of the situation are significantly increased.
Here are some ways to increase the opportunity for serendipity:
* Stepping Outside the Routine Increases Odds for Lucky Encounters
An active and varied lifestyle with new situations and people is a sure way to increase the odds that more chance encounters that could turn into opportunity will occur.
* Managing Stress Improves Ability to See Seredipitous Occurences
Richard Wiseman, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire in England, after a decade of studying luck, insists that only 10 percent of life is truly random and the rest is defined by thinking.
Anxiety, stress and preoccupation, he believes, cause people to miss even the most obvious opportunities. A laid-back attitude that frees one to observe and act on circumstances is essential to increasing serendipity.
* Making and Maintaining Connections Encourages Opportunities
Creating a strong network of friendships and acquaintances helps promote opportunity, and paying attention to each interaction may pave the way for future encounters and occurrences.
Are some people just luckier than others or can we influence our own destiny in a few simple steps?
* Luck is a State of Mind that Can Be Cultivated
According to Seifert and Wiseman, luck and serendipity are just states of mind. Lucky people not only prepare themselves for chance opportunities by imagining what it will look like when they get what they want, they actively create situations and cultivate relationships that allow them to see and act when opportunity presents itself.
(Karen Lawrence, "Serendipity and Luck," Suite 101, March 25 2013)
Things I Will Always Remember
Receiving the stern work lessons with equal doses of exceptional kindness while working as a teenager at Lake Margaret.
Getting timely hits in the State Baseball Tournament as a high school freshman who eventually played in the Ohio State finals.
Having a football coach tell me I was the best receiver he had ever coached.
Being a student and having a high school principal who knew tough love and great empathy.
Having a poem published in the Cincinnati Enquirer as a sophomore in high school.
Getting my first French kiss from an experienced cheerleader who told me I should open my mouth.
Playing guitar in my local high school's rock band.
Declining to leave home to play music in Newark and instead enrolling as a college freshman at Ohio University.
Deciding not to play football in college after talking with my uncle who had played at Auburn.
Being too inexperienced and shy about females to pursue girls I wanted to date.
Experiencing Nixon instilling the program of Vietnamization just as I was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Having a language arts college professor challenge me and doubt my verbal abilities.
Getting a grade of "F" on a college paper for the first time.
Finishing Graduate School with a 4.0 average.
Being told by a professor at Ohio Wesleyan that I have exceptional writing skills.
Telling the truth at a job interview for the West End Tutoring Service directorship that also allowed me to work with dedicated teen tutors.
Receiving instruction from a police detective informing me, "You cannot control any other person's actions."
Hearing Nicky Cruz state his mother told him as a child she "wished he had never been born."
Writing a letter to request parole for a friend who was in prison.
Fumbling night moves with those who I didn't even know well.
Accepting a blind date.
Building up the courage to fast dance with a date.
Taking an offer of a summer job for Youth Conservation Corp and directing two YCC camps.
Being told by a high school student that I had made a difference in his life.
Rejecting an opportunity for an affair after I was married.
Having clinical depression nearly destroy my life and alter my career.
Taking my first walk into a psychiatrist's office.