What is the secret to a happy and contented life? We’ve all heard the aphorism made famous by the American author and mythologist Joseph Campbell that you should “follow your bliss.” It sounds like a brilliant idea, one that most of us can get behind—but what does it mean exactly?
Campbell’s remarks on bliss occurred during a discussion with journalist Bill Moyers on a popular PBS series titled The Power of Myth that first aired in 1988. He expanded on the notion of what it means to follow your bliss with this thought:
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
The hard part, of course, is determining “the life you ought to be living.” Campbell went on to say that “a little intuition” can help you find your path—but ultimately what constitutes “bliss” is very personal. Your idea of bliss may be different from mine, and your next-door neighbor may have a totally different take on what bliss means to her or him.
Looking for your bliss? Answering these 3 questions may help.
According to my trusty laptop dictionary, bliss is defined as “perfect happiness,” “great joy” and “a state of spiritual blessedness.” You may be in this blessed head space right now and if you are, that’s fantastic, you have been graced with a wonderful gift. But for many of us, a little digging is needed to determine what bliss might look like in our own lives.
The 3 questions that follow might help you pursue your bliss. They can help you determine what you really want from life and help gauge where you are right now. So ask yourself:
WHO do I want to be with?
WHAT do I want to be doing?
WHERE do I want to be living?
Next, let’s take a deeper dive into each question posed by WHO/WHAT/WHERE. Use the additional questions below as thought starters to help you figure out where you are today and where you ideally might like to be.
WHO do I want to be with? Do I have loving, caring people in my life? Do those around me not share my beliefs and values? Is my relationship with my significant other in a good place? If not, can it be improved and how? What other relationships can be strengthened? Do I need to end any relationships or take the steps necessary to embark on new ones?
WHAT do I want to be doing? Am I in a line of work that I enjoy? Does it makes the most of my tools and strengths? Am I making a contribution to the people and world around me? Do I feel valued? Is there something I could be doing that I might enjoy more and that would make greater use of my knowledge and abilities?
WHERE do I want to be living? Am I in the apartment or house I want to be in? Do I like my neighborhood and community? Am I living close enough to my friends and loved ones? Geographically, am I in the climate I want to be in? Am I near the things I appreciate most, whether it’s the woods, the coastline or a city setting?
If you’re not happy with your answers to all 3 questions, that’s okay. The fact is often 1 or 2 of these factors may be in a state of flux. You may be engaged in a fulfilling line of work but surrounded by a toxic group of friends. You may live in a wonderful home and community but be less than happy with your current job situation. The key is to identify the one area that needs the most work and begin making the necessary changes to bring you closer to living a blissful life.
Spiritual Guidance on Finding Your Bliss.
If you’ve dwelled on the 3 questions above and still feel lost, it may be time to connect with a higher authority. Guidance on discerning our best path in life is offered by Henri Nouwen in his aptly titled book Discernment. Nouwen reminds us that “each of us has a mission in life” yet we often don’t believe it or think about our purpose long enough to become aware of it. In his words:
We seldom fully realize that we are sent to fulfill God-given tasks. We act as if we have to choose how, where, and with whom to live. But we were sent into the world by God. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.
When determining what we were put on this earth for, we often mistakenly believe that we are here to complete some grand task or accomplish some amazing feat. Nouwen tells us that while our individual tasks can be very specialized, “they may be the general task of loving one another in everyday life.” In other words: in what way can you bring more love to those in your life?
To determine what he needed to do each day, Nouwen would spend an hour in quiet prayer, meditation or contemplation every morning. He felt he could sense God at these moments, a presence that was “often subtle, small, quiet and hidden.” He said that by doing this, he was able to experience each day not just as a series of random incidents but as “divine appointments and encounters.”
Bottom line: If you still feel lost after asking yourself the 3 questions, start living one question at a time, one hour at a time. Ask for guidance. Then, take the small, incremental steps that are necessary to find and lead a blissful life.