Finding the good things you weren’t looking for


I’ve been writing a lot about “discovery” recently, the way in which apps attempt to find things you might like based on what you’ve liked before. But the best discovery is when you find things that aren’t just based on your purchase history or listening history.

For example, over the last couple of days I’ve discovered all kinds of fun things: the beautiful glass jewellery of Rachel Elliott, the gorgeous voice of Courtney Lynn, the hip-hop artist Becca Starr and the stunning folk/rock of Annie Booth.

I came across all of these things by accident. Elliot was selling her stuff in a one-off market in the downstairs of a pub; Lynn just happened to be playing in a bar chosen at random for a quick Sunday drink; Starr was performing in a venue where some of my friends hang out and Booth was played on a radio show I don’t usually listen to.

It’s a great demonstration of why it’s important to explore, whether that’s physically – going to places you don’t usually go – or in a less physical sense, by being open to new things or experiences.

There’s a word for encountering great things without going looking for them: serendipity, which means happy accidents: when things occur entirely by chance in a happy or beneficial way. Some of my very favourite things in the whole world came to me through serendipity. I don’t believe in destiny, the idea that everything we do is somehow pre-ordained. But I do believe in serendipity, that some of the word’s greatest joys come when you aren’t looking for them.

I love the origins of words, and this one’s particularly great. It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 in his Three Princes of Serendip, a fairy tale where the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”

I wasn’t planning to look into the origin of it; I just wanted to see if there was a better definition. So the delight I have in that little nugget of information is serendipitous too.