The Joy of Serendipity

3 lessons learned about life's moments of unexpected joy
By Mike Donghia
Mike Donghia
Mike Donghia
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
October 26, 2021 Updated: October 26, 2021

There are some moments in life that feel like heaven on earth. The particular experiences I’m thinking of can’t be manufactured or demanded, and so they always arrive as a happy surprise. I call this the joy of serendipity.

Joy: marked by a feeling of great pleasure and happiness

Serendipity: an unexpected occurrence that develops in a happy or beneficial way

Maybe it’s a playful conversation with a stranger that might be the spark of a new friendship. Or a single joke that sends a group of old friends roaring with laughter. It could be a romantic look or a platonic smile, a serious moment or a silly one.

The commonality is that they leave us with a feeling of being alive, close to those around us, present in the moment, and hopeful toward the future. It sometimes feels like you’re watching a movie of your own life.

Of course, I hope to increase the number of these moments in my life, but in that pursuit, I’ve learned a few things along the way.

You Can’t Overly Plan These Experiences

By using the word “serendipity,” I’m not suggesting that life is random and has no purpose, but rather that our lived experience often feels unexpected and surprising. I’m talking about when life’s unexpected moments unfold in a way that brings us joy and makes us feel alive.

It’s my experience that the joy of serendipity most often strikes when there’s less hype and lower expectations. High expectations often mean we’re expecting the world to conform exactly to our hopes and pleasures. This is a recipe for disappointment.

The perfect posture for joyful serendipity is to be completely present in the moment, with a dash of playfulness ready for a sprinkling of adventure. You don’t want to be “stuck in your own thoughts.” Like a good improv student, the key is to adopt a “yes, and…” mindset: Embrace the opportunities presented to you each moment and expand on them.

You Can’t Make Them Your Sole Aim

As much as we enjoy moments of joyful serendipity, I don’t think they were ever meant to be the main dish of life. They are more like a spice, adding flavor and excitement to an already satisfying meal.

When we’re busy taking care of our responsibilities and living a life of love and purpose, we aren’t looking to these serendipitous moments to define us or give us a reason to get up in the morning.

If we give them space, moments of joyful serendipity are free to do what they do best: surprise us, make us feel alive, awaken our senses, engage our emotions, and give us a renewed appreciation for those around us. These moments of heightened emotional experience are the stuff that memories are made of.

You Should Be Grateful and Not Demand an Encore

One of the dangers of intensely pleasurable and memorable experiences is that we don’t know how to receive them for what they are. For example, when we read books or watch movies depicting serendipitous joy, we can easily mistake them for “real life.” But, as we all know, real life is made up of many more ordinary moments that don’t take your breath away.

The ultimate goal of these serendipitous moments, like all of life, is to provoke gratitude. They are divine gifts given to refresh us, move us, and fill us with wonder. The way to receive a gift is with a smile, a word of thanks, and enjoyment. Relish those moments and then relive them in your mind. Talk about them with friends and reminisce. Even go so far as to cultivate the right environment to create new moments, but never, ever demand an encore. That’s not our right, and it destroys the spirit in which these gifts are to be received.

Enjoy

The joy of serendipity is a gift, and so it can’t be forced, manufactured, or demanded. I wish you many such moments in your life, and the ability to recognize them for what they are.

This article was originally published on This Evergreen Home.

Mike Donghia
Mike (and his wife, Mollie) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.