sunday life: “it’s meant to be”

This week I contemplate whether it’s all “meant to be”.

Have you noticed everyone is saying this a lot lately?

The sales assistant at Domayne tells me the mattress protector I’m after is the last in stock. “It’s meant to be,” she says, giving me a knowing smile. The only available seats at the Cineplex are for Ugly Truth. Not an ideal conflation of events, but I run into a peer who later sets me up with a sweet speakers gig in the row behind me: “It was meant to be”. Someone’s eaten the last Mint Slice: “It’s not meant to be”, yells Dad from the lounge during a recent visit.

I’m sure you’ve noticed this happening in your orbit, too.

On Tuesday I was in a taxi to the airport running late for a flight, which is a painfully regular state of being for me. I tend to calculate travel times according to some sort of as-the-crow-flies formula, not accounting for traffic lights or congestion. Or lane changing-averse taxi drivers.

Sensing my white-knuckled distress (but not changing into the faster lane) the driver says calmly, “everything will work out as it needs to…if it’s meant to be”.

Funnily, I get to the queue and the three people in front mysteriously wander off. The flight is delayed. And, “Ms Wilson, you’re in luck. The new luggage drop-off time closes in 30 seconds.” Looking up, the check-in chick smiles: “You just made it – it’s meant to be”.

As I walk to security I smile and punch the air Obama-style. Sure, I was pleased to have made the flight. But there was something else going on. How bizarre I chose that counter, don’t you think? And, by golly, what are the chances of the flight being delayed just enough – and only just – to get me on that flight? 47289 other scenarios could’ve taken place. But they didn’t. I felt like I’d been touched by a mysterious force, a force beyond my white-knuckled grip on life.

As it happens I also stumbled on an odd little study this week (originating from Michegan; all odd little studies seem to) that shows imagining what might not have happened boosts happiness. The study asked a bunch of couples to record what life would be like if they HADN’T met their partner. Turns out these couples received a happy hit far greater than another bunch of couples asked to simply reflected on the fact they HAD met.

Human beings love contemplating this “what if it hadn’t happened” phenomena.  The movie Sliding Doors and Lional Shriver’s book Post Birthday World explores it. So does the kooky new film 500 days of Summer in which a fluke encounter leads to true love and marriage, while a contrived, agonized dating process does not. Zooey Deschanel’s character weds the man she met randomly in a café. She was about to leave, but orders a second coffee on a whim. Just as he enters. She happens to be reading a book he was curious about and. Thus, he leans over to chat.

When she tells this story, you get the sense it’s this very flukiness that convinces her she’s married the right man. 47289 other circumstances could’ve transpired to prevent them from meeting. But instead this one joyous circumstance unfolds. Goddamn, it was meant to be.

Speak to any happy couple and they have a similar fluky story. My grandparents met because my grandfather happened to go to the movies in a small town the day my grandmother was working as an usherette. Mum met my dad when she agreed, at the last minute, to accompany her dateless brother to a school dance. Imagine if washing her hair had been a better option that night?

So why does contemplating things that might not have been make us happy? The scientists say that it’s the sense of “mystery and surprise” it evokes. We get blown away by the ludicrous odds of that one encounter (out of 47289) happening. It feels like a greater force has steered it and we feel awe. We feel part of something big and special.

The scientists suggest applying the technique across all of life. Which is thoughtful of them. I did so this week and have to conclude that everything about life is a fluke that viewed in hindsight, as a determined direction, as though it’s meant to be. And even the bad stuff turns out to have a purpose in the end. It just does.

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