Are coincidences a secret message from the universe?

1 Jun, 2023 | Notes from the Universe

5 Minute Read

Words by WYLDE MOON staff writer

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Serendipity is when a lovely random or coincidental thing happens by what appears to be complete chance. When you bump into a dear friend you’ve not seen for ages at a place neither of you usually go to, for example.

Everyone loves a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment so we asked Matt Johnson, PhD, a neuroscientist (someone who studies the nervous system – the brain, spinal cord and nerve cells), speaker and author who has explored the psychology of serendipity to tell us more

What does serendipity mean?

Serendipity is when happy accidents happen. When you accidentally stumble upon something fascinating or valuable, while your intentions are somewhere else entirely.

Is there scientific proof of serendipity?

There are many of us who believe that we are 100% in control of our own lives and fates, and that there’s no ‘greater meaning’ attached to things. Some things are just random; we are bound to meet like-minded people in spaces where we’ve chosen to be, and there doesn’t have to be a reason attached to every single one of life’s occurrences.

But that’s boring, isn’t it?

According to Matt Johnson, there are some scientific ideas like Complexity Theory and Chaos Theory that suggest coincidences come about purely because life has become complicated and messy.

“As humans we have a desire to seek meaning,” says Matt. “We want to see the bigger picture. When there’s a set of circumstances that seems so improbable and so incredible that it couldn’t possibly have occurred just by chance, we tend to explain to ourselves that it must mean something, and that the universe must have conspired to put these things together because there’s no other explanation.

“Whether or not the universe did actually transpire… I think that’s up to anybody’s point of view or their spiritual explanations. But the general template is that the brain will seek some broader explanation and will infuse deeper meaning into that set of circumstances.”

Matt shared a story about a couple who were teenage sweethearts, parted ways, and didn’t see each other for a decade. By a stroke of serendipity, they coincidentally met at a conference in Pennsylvania, despite both being originally from Mumbai, India. The seemingly improbable nature of their reunion ignited a sense of awe and wonder, ultimately leading them to rekindle their relationship and get married.

We’ve all had those moments when we’ve run into someone we thought we’d never see again, or bumped into someone we’d have never expected to see in a particular location. Whether our interest in that person is romantic or professional, do those impossibly serendipitous moments really have a greater significance?

“If there’s no logical explanation for a circumstance, then our brains will inject meaning into it”

“There are basically three essential components of a serendipitous experience,” says Matt. “One, it has to be enjoyable. Secondly, it’s a surprise, and thirdly – the crucial one – is that the situation is inexplicable. If there’s no logical explanation for a circumstance, then our brains will inject meaning into it.

“Depending on the person’s inclination, we could think the universe conspired to create this situation for us, or it’s just fate. As human beings, we’re very uncomfortable with ambiguity. We have to have some explanation – even if it is otherworldly. We need to make it make sense. If we’re devoid of any clear explanation, we bring in our own meaning. That’s what seems to produce feelings of serendipity.”

Is there anything we can do to increase these joyful moments of serendipity, or do we really have to leave it up to the universe?

Experiencing more meaningful coincidences or serendipitous moments is all about breaking our routine, says Matt.

“Breaking habitual routines will open a person up to new experiences. If we can seek out new experiences and novelty, then there’s more openness to ideas, and appreciation of more nuances.

“We are pattern-seeking creatures, always seeking meaning and connections. Serendipity taps into this fundamental aspect of our brains and adds a layer of enchantment to our lives.”

While some might argue that serendipitous events are merely coincidences or chance, others find solace and inspiration in the belief that the universe conspires to create meaningful experiences.

So, whether it’s pursuing a new hobby, attending social events, or simply being open to chance encounters, cultivating an attitude of serendipity can enrich our lives and make every day an adventure.

Serendipity reminds us that life is full of surprises and that there’s always room for magic and meaning. So, let’s embrace the unexpected and allow serendipity to guide us on our journey.

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