There is this nice notion „Serendipity“ that invites associations to other nice notions such as „Serenity“. What do these two mean and do they have anything in common?

Serendipity, according to Wikipedia, means a „fortunate happenstance“ or „pleasant surprise“. The term was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 in a reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. The princes were „always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of“. Serendipity is like the red thread in a story that links people and events together and is only visible in hindsight.

Serenity on the other hand is described by OED as „the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled“.It may seem at first glance that serendipity and serenity have nothing in common as the former appears to relate more to external phenomena and the latter more to internal states. I would argue though that serenity opens the doors to serendipity! The more serenity you have in your life, the more serendipity happens! Like the princes of Serendip who were not on a quest while running into things. Serenity is the state of not being on a quest or not being hooked on a specific outcome. Serenity enables the leisure necessary to notice things!

In what way is this possible, you may ask! Here’s the thing: we have no major agency over what happens to us. I definitely disagree with the law of attraction. I am one of those that think that the Universe does not give a damn about you. Things happen in unpredictable ways. What we do have agency over is our focus of attention. Whatever our focus of attention is on, feels real to us.  Our capacity to focus is limited though. When our focus is on something, other things remain outside its scope. It is like the opportunity cost. If you invest into something, you automatically deprive yourself of other opportunities to invest. You cannot have your cake and eat it, as the saying goes!

Serenity frees our focus of attention and lets it fall on things. There is an element of randomness, but this is not the whole story. If something would not matter to us at all, if we don’t know it at all, we would not recognize it. It is probably safe to say that things we cannot relate to, do not attract our attention at all. Things that matter to us, on the other hand, do attract our attention and we notice them. The focus of attention augments the significance of what we notice! Would things happen outside of our focus of attention? Yes, but would be care? Not in the same way as we care about things that matter to us. If you do not care about something, for all practical purposes it is not real. The reticular activating system (RAS) regulates attention. Feel free to look it up! In simple language it means we have a natural system that regulates our priorities. Things that are important to us, attract our attention, things that are not, get screened out. We are wired to pay attention to some things and not to other according to our priority list.

Serenity increases our capacity to notice things. We notice more of what is happening to and around us when we are serene. That is right: when we are in a state of serenity, we notice more, because our focus of attention is not fixed on one thing in particular. Let me give you an example: you know how it is when you are preoccupied with some problem. It takes up mental space and locks in your attention. Imagine your mental space were an empty room and your problem a chair in this room. If you let this chair lock in your focus of attention, the chair is all that matters. If, however, you bring in more chairs into the room, a table, pictures, lamps, a sofa, etc., would this chair matter so much? Or would it rather blend into all these other things? Serenity is what happens when something seizes to have a grip on your attention. Serenity is what loosens the focus of attention even more and lets other things and events and people in. Serenity opens the door to serendipity.

© Teodora Rudolph. All rights reserved 2017, Zurich, Switzerland