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  • Timothy Iseler

Murphy's Law: The Best of All Possible Worlds

Murphy's Law is commonly phrased as "everything that can go wrong, will go wrong". Hanging a picture and the nail pulls out of the wall? Murphy's Law. Rushing to an appointment and trip over a crack in the sidewalk? Chalk it up to Murphy's Law. Finally get a free weekend and it rains the whole time? You guessed it.

That always struck me as a bit of a cop out, an easy excuse when plans fail, a cheeky explanation for why the underdog never gets ahead. Sure, lots of things go wrong at exactly the wrong time; but lots of things also go right at exactly the right time. For every stubbed toe, there were likely dozens of careless walks past the end table; for every spilled cup of coffee, there might have been hundreds of close calls that went unnoticed. The common phrasing of Murphy's Law resonates because it only focuses on the negative.

It is no secret that people feel the pain of loss more than the joy of gain. Some studies suggest that loss registers twice as much as gain, while others put the ratio closer to 3:1. In other words, it takes 2-3 pleasant events to balance the negative feelings from one unpleasant occurrence. Or, if you prefer, that a potential gain must be two or three times greater than a potential loss before many will consider it a risk worth taking.

Murphy's Law, which emphasizes everything that goes wrong, feels correct for people already predisposed to think that negatives are worse – and more common – than positives.

Another interpretation of Murphy's Law, though, instead asserts that "everything that can happen, will happen." Not only does this version remove the negative bias – allowing that often things go right – it also makes a profound statement about reality. The only reality you can possibly experience is the one you currently experience.

If a thing happens, then obviously it could have happened. But the inverse is also true – what did not happen, could not have happened. If it could have, it would have; since it did not, it could not.

Our minds cycle through past experiences to predict which actions will lead to favorable results – and avoid unfavorable ones – in the future. Most of the time it works pretty well, but too often we ruminate on the past or worry about the future. We replay past mistakes searching for ways it might have gone differently. We concoct imaginary scenarios in anticipation of future events (that may never even happen).

Past experience may improve judgement (if we're lucky), but the reality of any given moment is the best it can possibly be. If things could have gone otherwise, the reality we experience would not be this reality. We already live in the best of all possible worlds.

Timothy Iseler, CFP®

Founder & Lead Advisor

Iseler Financial, LLC | Durham NC | (919) 666-7604

Iseler Financial helps creative professionals remove stress while taking control of their financial futures. As both advisor and accountability partner, we help identify current strengths and weaknesses, clarify and refine your long-term goals, and prioritize understandable, manageable, and repeatable actions to bring long-term financial well-being. Reach out today to take the first step.

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