Happenstance Theory Explained


Have you ever had something happen to you that was unplanned? Perhaps a promotion came up unexpectedly because a co-worker moved away or someone wrote a blog post about what you do. These unexpected events may be positive, like having your boss come to you and say they’ve recommended you for the promotion, so be sure to apply for it.

They may also be negative, like having someone write a negative blog post that attempts to ruin your public reputation and have that content go viral.

John Krumboltz developed the happenstance theory to show how positive or negative events can be the foundation of indecision or a stepping stone to something greater. He suggests that every opportunity or chance encounter that may happen to an individual over the course of any given day offers some type of benefit.

By focusing on the potential benefit, it becomes more likely that the benefit will be realized in that person’s life.

What Is the Core of Happenstance Theory?

The future can be predicted to some extent, but there are times when we can also make our own luck. This is the core of the happenstance theory. Chance events, unpredictable social factors, or predictable environmental factors can all have a unique influence on an individual. These experiences may be positive or negative, but certain personality traits can turn any encounter into one that can eliminate indecision.

Here are the four personality traits that Kumboltz recommends developing within the happenstance theory.

  • A curiosity to explore whatever learning opportunities might be made available to an individual, whether planned or unplanned.
  • A persistent attitude that allows for individuals to deal with roadblocks or obstacles that may come up over the course of any given day.
  • A flexibility to address the events, circumstances, problems, or successes that may occur through the pattern of choices an individual makes during the day.
  • A focus on positive energy instead of negative energy so that optimism becomes the foundation of choice when an unplanned event occurs.

Kumboltz suggests that when an individual can focus on these four personality traits and develop them over time, then they will have the ability to capitalize on chance events which occur to them. Coincidence becomes opportunity.

Factors That Improve the Chances of Implementing Happenstance Theory

There are several factors which can be helpful to individuals who are seeking to turn “lemons into lemonade.” Kumboltz suggests that implementing multiple factors on a regular basis on a personal level makes it possible for someone to identify chance encounters and turn them into a choice opportunity.

These are the factors which are suggested for individuals to highlight in their own lives.

  • Ongoing self-assessments that are open and honest about personal strengths and weaknesses. The focus should be to improve weak areas without compromising strong areas.
  • A commitment to developing personal skills by taking advantage of ongoing learning opportunities. Once an individual becomes comfortable with their circumstances, they are less likely to seek out those opportunities.
  • Receiving feedback and assessments from trust family, friends, supervisors, and colleagues. By seeing oneself through the eyes of another, it becomes possible to improve areas of weakness that may have not been otherwise identified.
  • Networking effectively in personal and professional circles.
  • Achieving a balance between personal and professional responsibilities. Identifying areas that seek to unbalance an individual and either eliminating or reducing their influence allows for better happenstance recognition.
  • Planning for the future, including financial planning, so that periods of unemployment or uncertainty can be turned into periods of opportunity.

When these tasks and attributes become a personal point of focus, it becomes possible to turn any encounter or occurrence that happens over the course of a day into an amazing personal or professional opportunity.

Resistance Within the Happenstance Theory

Becoming comfortable is what creates resistance to the happenstance theory. Comfort stops people from acting on recognized opportunities or being willing to take a risk. This is generally from a career perspective, but there are personal applications which may apply.

There is a difference between feeling happy and satisfied and feeling comfortable. You may be satisfied with where you are because you’ve reached your goals, but there must be future goals toward which one strives. Comfort occurs because there is a lack of future goals. There is no need to stretch oneself because personal or professional achievement has been “maximized.”

Except in happenstance theory, maximization never occurs. You can always be a little bit better every day if you’re willing to look for the opportunities that come your way.