The origins of the word Serendipity are quite interesting.  Hundreds of years ago a Persian fable called The Three Princes of Serendip was written.  Serendip is the Persian name for the island known today as Sri Lanka.

Horace Walpole, a British politician and author, coined the term “serendipity” in 1754.  Quoting now from Richard Eyre:

In the fable, the three princes each go out in search of their fortune. None of them find a fortune, but all of them, through their acute awareness and perception, find things that are better than a fortune — love, truth, and opportunities to serve. They are able to make these discoveries because they notice things that other people miss, and thus find unexpected joys and opportunities.

Walpole, reading the fable, said to himself, “We do not have an English word that expresses that happy ability to find things that are better than what we think we are looking for.” So he made up the word Serendipity, and defined it as follows:

A state of mind whereby a person, through awareness, sensitivity, and sagacity, frequently finds something better than that which he is seeking.”

So, although we may normally consider luck and serendipity to be essentially the same, serendipity is actually much more than luck and has significant implications for living a more rewarding and fulfilling life.  Quoting again from Eyre:

Think for a moment about the elements of Walpole’s definition. First, it is a person’s state of mind or an attitude. Second, it requires awareness and sensitivity along with sagacity, (a thoughtful and wise interpretation of what one notices). Third, it implies that the person is proactive, because he is seeking things, or has goals. Fourth, it indicates that, as life spontaneously happens, we get opportunities, or impressions, or ideas — perhaps things that most people miss — which are actually better than whatever it was that we were seeking or doing at the moment.

In other words, as we are going along, trying to control things and get the things done on our list, working to reach our goals of what we want to do and what we want to have, we should strive to stay aware and in tune, using both our senses and our inspiration.  As we do, we may well see better paths — things more important than what is on our list; things that God wants us to do that supersede what we thought we wanted to do.

These “serendipities” can be big or small. They can involve little opportunities or small beauties like an unexpected call from a friend or a lovely sunset. Or they can be big connections or discoveries (Fleming discovered antibiotics by the serendipitous observation of how the mold blown in through an open window started killing bacteria on a Petri dish in the lab.)

Large or small, the search for serendipity puts the premium not on controlling but on observing, not on forcing things to be the way we want them, but on seeing the possibilities in things as they really are.”

What thoughts do you have about serendipity?  If anyone is interested in a few final comments about serendipity, let me know.


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