Reality Check: Unplanned Events That Change Our Lives

In my research on happiness, I came across a soon-to-be-released book titled “The Saad Truth About Happiness.” It’s by Gad Saad, professor of marketing at Concordia University in Montreal.
Saad’s happiness suggestions are clear and practical; I’ll write about them in a future column. But on my way toward learning Saad’s views on happiness, I got distracted by the story of how he met his wife.
As one of Saad’s steps to maximizing happiness is “Find the right spouse,” I found it interesting that Saad’s story (which is not a sad story, by the way) of this most important relationship seemed very much a matter of chance, rather than choice.
The short story is that an off-hand remark in a gym led to Dr. Saad being asked to deliver corporate training. This type of training wasn’t his usual activity, so it would have involved considerable work, effort, and the pay wasn’t great. Further, apparently some of the corporate attendees were unenthusiastic about being required to attend sessions on their weekend “free time.”
Turns out, one of the attendees did develop enthusiasm—for Dr. Saad at least—and now they’ve celebrated several decades of marriage.
It’s a lovely romantic story, but it might seem at odds with much of the approach that I encourage here. You know the themes: think about what you want, examine what you are doing, determine if you are making progress in the right direction. If you are, carry on. If you’re not, make new plans—ones that will be more effective for the outcome you want. Follow through with action. Then reassess—is my new course of action more effective? Or less so? Repeat the cycle.
This cycle of thinking, planning, analyzing, taking deliberate action doesn’t seem to leave much to chance, does it? Where does chance come in? If our careful planning can be blown up by a chance meeting or unexpected conversation, what’s the use of planning and taking deliberate action? Might I just as well sit on the couch and wait for chance to lead me to the life I want to live?
As I can’t say what life you want to live, neither can I say for sure whether sitting on the couch is an effective strategy. However, my hunch is that there are probably more effective strategies for many of us.
Even though Saad’s story seems to have been a serendipitous occurrence, there are still elements of choice in it. First, he met his future wife only because he was open to opportunity. In fact, it was an inconvenient, uncomfortable opportunity, but an opportunity nevertheless. He took it and worked through the discomfort. Had he chosen to decline, his life would have turned out differently.
Secondly, he was not put off by his participants’ reluctance. When we are faced with lack of enthusiasm—even hostility—we can find it easy to justify the attitude, “Why should I treat people well if they are not treating me well?” We have choices. When we can maintain our positive demeanour in a difficult environment, we also open ourselves to the possibility of good things happening.
Every chance encounter is not going to bring us a new life partner (fortunately). But it can bring the possibility of new friends, new work, new hobbies, and ultimately a more meaningful life.
Have you had a chance encounter that has had a significant impact on your life?

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