The Joy of Serendipity

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While out shopping this holiday season, I had a rare opportunity to appreciate a long forgotten concept: Serendipity. The simple joy of discovering something new and unexpected.

I was rushing around, picking up things I’d bought online, running errands, and grabbing gifts I’d already researched when I found myself stranded near a bookstore. I had an hour to kill, so I wandered the aisles. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that kind of leisure time in a bookstore or library. Usually I order books online or pick up books at the library that I’ve already placed on hold. Run in, get the books, get out.

This time I wandered. And, surprisingly, bought quite a few titles which I’d never seen before. Now, for a book fiend this may seem unusual. But in this day and age of endless, easily accessible reviews, I rarely buy anything which I have not thoroughly already researched.

In my younger, pre-internet days, I would wander bookstores and libraries and simply buy whatever caught my eye. Cool cover, interesting description, gripping first pages? Come home with me! But now… Everything I buy is already known to me. (And thanks to idiots and their spoilers, often I already know the end, as well.)

And this doesn’t hold true only for books, either. Board games, Lego sets, movies/TV shows, restaurants, plays… (I even got caught up in the reviews of a calendar of all things.) Very few things I buy or do are truly impulses, or bought/done just for the fun of it. I research everything. While this makes for sound financial practice (and possibly points to a crazy need for absolute control), it sucks the joy out of a big part of life. Life is unpredictable and unexpected. You might as well roll with it sometimes and enjoy the ride.

Sure, there are some things that it really pays to research. Appliances, cars, big ticket items, things you want to last many years, or which you need to perform very specific tasks should probably be researched so you get the most for your money.

But fun stuff like books, games, etc… Some researching is fine, but if you never venture out and just try something weird, you’re missing the joy of discovery. Of serendipity.

True story break…

Years ago, I was browsing my local library while I was on my lunch break. This was when I worked for “the man” and would always leave the office, even if I brought my lunch. I’d rather eat in a freezing car than sit in that toxic place one more second. Anyway, I found Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager on the shelf. At the time it was a new release and I saw that it was part of a series. Fine. I picked up all three books and hauled them out. I’ve been in love ever since.

Up until that day, I’d never heard of her or her work. Had I not taken the chance, I’d have missed out on something glorious. (Of course now you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting something Outlander themed so I probably would have gotten into it eventually, but back then I was a trendsetter.) The point is, sometimes you need to just allow books and things to fall into your life, or your life will be poorer for the lack.

Sometimes you just need to take a risk. Sometimes you just need to buy/do/get something simply because it’s fun. Sure, it may not work out. The book or movie may be terrible, but that’s also true of those for which you read the reviews. How many do you read or see that got fabulous reviews but which you hated? Probably more than a few. And how many things have you seen or done that got terrible reviews, yet you loved them? Again, more than a few. With those kinds of odds, you might as well take a risk on something unknown once in a while. Either way, you learn a little about yourself. Why do you gravitate toward certain things? What attracts you?

Yet even the failures can be fun. They provide an opportunity to learn something. “Okay, no matter how cool a book about icebergs sounds, it’s probably not going to be for me.” You learn what to likely avoid next time. When the mistakes are a shared experience, like a movie or restaurant with friends, they provide fodder for conversation in later years. “Remember that disaster of a pizza place we went to? God, the rats were huge!” It becomes part of your relationship in a way that no carefully researched event ever can.

More often than not, though, serendipitous purchases work out. The book may not be the best thing you’ve ever read, but it’s not so bad. And it might actually be the best thing you’ve ever read. The board game is fun, possibly the best ever. The point is, you won’t know unless you walk in blind and take a chance.

Sure, knowing everything about a purchase can provide a feeling of security. You know what you’re getting into. But just enjoying the process… That’s something that we too often forget to do. (And not just in shopping, but that’s a post for another day. And at the rate we’re killing off real stores, the true joy of a serendipitous purchase may one day be lost forever so you might as well enjoy it.)

The fun of walking in a store, browsing, checking out items that just appeal to you on a visceral level is something I think we need more of. No, not every day because that would be fiscally disastrous. But once in a while, just walk into a store or a library and see where you end up. You might be surprised. At the very least, you’ll have fun.


(Photo courtesy of geralt)

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