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Is TikTok's “Burnt Toast Theory” A Helpful Mindset — Or Is It Just a Load of BS?

An expert unpacks this viral outlook on embracing life’s little inconveniences.

Written by Michelle Rostamian
A woman holds up a piece of burnt toast to show her son.
SolStock/Getty Images

Why do bad things happen to good people? How is it that it's impossible to scroll through the news (or even social media) and not come across horrific tragedies? Why does it often feel like the universe is against us? Life can feel unfair at times, but many people opt to find a silver lining in the letdowns, no matter how big or small they are. Similar to the age-old "everything happens for a reason" adage, TikTok's recently budding Burnt Toast Theory is yet another example of positive thinking that people claim can help you deal with adversity.

"Imagine you're rushing to get ready for work and end up burning your toast. Instead of seeing it as a hiccup in your day, the Burnt Toast Theory suggests that this minor inconvenience might be a cosmic nudge steering you away from more significant troubles — like avoiding a traffic jam or not bumping into someone you'd rather not see," explains Alyssa Scolari, a licensed counselor and owner of See You Through It Counseling. "It's a way to embrace the idea that these little detours could be secretly working in your favor, guiding you towards a path that's somehow better for you in the grand scheme of things."

Scolari says the theory isn't just about breakfast gone wrong; it's a mindset that encourages us to accept and find peace with the things we can't control, a reminder that sometimes the universe might have our backs in the most unexpected ways.

As with most things, the theory wound up on TikTok. It gained attention as a reaction to the recent Alaska Airlines flight during which a door panel blew off mid-flight. As TikTok user Kellysites explains, the two empty seats next to the faulty door panel were miraculously empty due to the passengers missing their flight. (Anyone else having Final Destination flashbacks?!)

This sent the social media platform into a frenzy, with users pointing to the Burnt Toast Theory as a way to cope with the nightmare that was spared for the two would-be passengers.

Let's just come right out and ask it: Is this theory helpful or a load of nonsense?

As the debate continues, one thing is for sure — this isn't anything new for our brains, according to Scolari. "The human brain is a remarkable pattern-detecting machine, wired to seek connections and patterns in the world around us to make sense of our environment and predict future events," she says.

"This innate tendency is rooted in our evolutionary past, where recognizing patterns helped our ancestors survive by enabling them to anticipate dangers and find food more efficiently."

When applied to the Burnt Toast Theory, the brain will likely link something like missing a flight that later encountered problems to avoiding potential danger. Says Scolari, "This pattern-seeking behavior can imbue seemingly random events with deep personal significance, reinforcing the belief that there's a hidden order or protective force at work in our lives."

While our brains are wired for coherence and understanding, that's not to say that everyone universally, unabashedly, looks to find peace among life's curveballs. In fact, some Reddit users were quick to point out how the theory is grounds for confirmation bias.

"Confirmation bias relates to how we search for, interpret, and recall information in ways that affirm our preconceptions," explains Scolari. "This bias means we view certain events as evidence that our positive or protective beliefs about the world are correct, especially when an inconvenience is followed by what seems like a fortunate escape from a worse situation."

For instance, if someone experiences a minor setback and later perceives it as having saved them from a negative outcome, they might see this as confirmation of a benevolent order in life's randomness, overlooking many instances where such setbacks lead to no significant consequences.

It can be a good thing.

Still, this "glass half-full" way of thinking can offer several psychological benefits that may enhance your overall well-being. For one, it allows us to bounce back quickly from setbacks. "By seeing challenges as opportunities for growth or hidden blessings, we're less likely to be overwhelmed by adversity and more inclined to adapt and overcome," says Scolari.

It also encourages us to accept things outside our control, allowing us to let go of unnecessary stress and focus on what we can change. Finally, this mindset can help us focus on the potential good in every situation, further enhancing our coping strategies to seek solutions versus dwell on the negatives.

Whether you're a believer in the theory or not, balanced judgment and a solid perception of reality are critical.

"Life is full of random, unpredictable moments, and not every mishap is a signal or harbinger of something greater," says Scolari. "Sometimes, a burnt piece of toast is just that, and while occasional inconveniences might coincidentally prevent us from a worse fate, at other times, they are just inconveniences with no deeper meaning."