Joseph Campbell introduced the phrase “Follow your bliss” to the public in his 1988 interview with Bill Moyers. To follow your bliss means to have the courage to do what you really want to do in life as opposed to choosing a path forced on you by other people.
Campbell uttered the phrase and explained it in episode #4 of the Power of Myth interview series, which was titled “Sacrifice and Bliss.” The phrase is both simple and deep, so let’s explore it to uncover its deeper meaning and identify some practical steps you can take to begin to follow your bliss.
“Follow Your Bliss” – Let’s Break It Down Word by Word
Each of the three words in this famous phrase is intentional and precise. We’ll analyze them in the reverse order.
1. Let’s Begin with “Bliss”
The word “bliss” has several connotations. It can mean a state of religious ecstasy or the feeling of being touched by a divinity.
In a non-religious sense, bliss may simply mean a state of happiness in which no problems arise or they are easily and effortlessly resolved.
The Buddha’s View of Bliss for the Worldly
Interestingly, the Buddha is said to have taught a secular (worldly) person a lesson on bliss. According to the great teacher, bliss can be of four types:
- of having wealth (because money has the power to free you from many problems)
- of making use of wealth (the freedom to create goods and services through investing)
- of being free from debt (because this largely frees you from money worries)
- of blamelessness (freedom from guilt)
Notice how these four types of bliss as described by the Buddha are highly relevant to entrepreneurship. Also notice that they all give you more freedom. So, having more freedom is definitely an integral part of bliss.
Put simply, bliss means:
- Having the freedom to do what you really want in life as opposed to what you don’t want
- Doing the work you love
- Being free from outside demands and responsibilities that drain you
- Sensing that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, most of the time
How Joseph Campbell came up with the phrase “Follow Your Bliss”
In his talk with Bill Moyers, Campbell explains that he derived his famous phrase from a concept expressed in Sanskrit:
“But here are three terms that bring you to the brink, you might say, the jumping off place to the ocean. And the three terms are sat, chit, ananda. And sat, the word sat means ‘being.’ Chit means ‘full consciousness.’ And ananda means ‘rapture.’”
Campbell equates ‘rapture’ with bliss. And he explains that he may not have a full awareness of his being and consciousness, the ‘sat’ and ‘chit.’ But he surely knows his ‘ananda,’ his bliss, which in the beginning of his journey was studying the Native American mythology.
Campbell himself is a great example of following your bliss. He discovered his fascination early in life and stayed with it, never deviating from it. This clarity of purpose enabled him to become the best in his field.
He authored the concept of the Hero’s Journey that is so popular today. And he lived a wonderful, productive, and blissful life studying and teaching mythology at a university and through his books and talks.
2. What Is “Your” Bliss
The word “your” in the phrase is highly intentional, as well. It is only bliss if it is yours. Yet, we so often emulate others, mistaking their example for the bliss of our own.
It is okay to follow someone for a time, to study their habits, and to emulate their behavior. In fact, this can be an important part of the journey – perhaps a crucial part. But the student must eventually break away from his teacher and find his own bliss, his own path.
Examples of Following Your Bliss
Thus, there are two phases, two parts of making sure your bliss is truly your own.
First, you must find your field of endeavor, your vocation. For example, for Campbell, this was mythology and teaching. For Bruce Lee, this was martial arts. For Arnold Schwarzenegger, this was bodybuilding.
And second, you must find yourself in that field.
Campbell learned from prominent psychologists and mythologists, such as Carl Jung and Otto Rank. But then he discovered his own voice and wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, revolutionizing the field of mythology.
Bruce Lee learned from Ip Man, a master of a Chinese martial art wing chun. But then he had to break off and form his own style he called Jeet Kune Do. Lee could not stay within the limiting framework of one tradition. He had to innovate and find his own way.
Arnold became an amazing bodybuilder. But then he became the greatest champion of all time and fused this sport with acting. He became the first and probably only professional bodybuilder who also became a top-paid Hollywood actor, which was his bliss.
History is filled with other examples. Carl Jung was Freud’s student. But then he broke off and formed his own school of psychology.
Michael Jackson started out with his brothers as Jackson Five. But as he grew more mature, he felt the need to break off from the group and form his own style. We all know the professional results of that decision. Michael was following his bliss.
Now, what of a person who is more like you and myself, who is trying to discover his bliss later in life? Well, we have to be on the lookout for it, be able to recognize it, and heed its call.
How to Recognize Your Bliss
- It is something that you may have tried doing and loved it
- It is potentially something you could devote the rest of your life to
- It is something you would love to study, practice, and possibly teach
- It fascinates you
- It keeps coming up in your thoughts at different times in your life
The rest of the answer is in the third word in the phrase – “Follow.”
3. How to “Follow” Your Bliss
Note something very important about the way Campbell began talking about coining his phrase. The three Sanskrit words Campbell alludes to refer to the point in life where you are facing an abyss, a cliff, a “jumping off place into the ocean.”
If you are reading this, you are probably not a teenager trying to figure out what to major in in college (although if you are, this material will help). You are probably an adult who has begun to question your current life and work.
You may be facing a crisis or are simply bored to death with your current life situation. In other words, you are looking for your own bliss.
If so, then following your bliss may very well involve making some kind of a radical decision.
For Dantes in Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo, it was jumping off the cliff into the waters surrounding Chateau D’If, his prison for 13 years.
For Jeff Bezos, it was leaving his high-paying job to start Amazon. Apparently, Amazon could not be built part-time.
For me, it was quitting my job to travel the world while building my income and my dream business online. I had very little money in the bank and had to rely on the “invisible means of support” which Campbell also talked about:
“I say, follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
Here’s a video I made that details my story of quitting my job and gives you actionable steps to do so, if that’s what you’ve been contemplating:
Three Actionable Steps to Find and Follow Your Bliss
Step 1. Start a Daily Personal Space Ritual
Campbell talks about this, as well. Spend some time every day in silence, about 10-20 minutes to begin with.
Just sitting in silence, disconnected from the rest of the world, allows you to begin to hear your own inner voice. It’s the voice that’s been silenced by society, the media, the voices of other people.
When you spend a little time in your own space every day, you acknowledge to yourself that you are important. And you are. In your life, who could be more important than you?
You begin to see things you have never noticed before, such as your own self-deception. And as Shakespeare admonished, “To thine own self be true.” Because then you won’t be false to anyone else.
Step 2. Journal
Buy yourself a nice, leather-bound journal, if you haven’t already. Journaling is a wonderful kind of self-therapy. You don’t even have to do it every day, but I would recommend journaling once a week.
- Your goals and aspirations
- Any insights that come up for you during your time in silence
- Anything you may want to eliminate from your life
- Any new desires
- Perhaps an urge to get something started, like a business
- Any business ideas
- Revelations about your current situation
- A Call to Adventure, speaking of which…
Step 3. Look Out for a Call to Adventure
This particular type of insight is very powerful. You will recognize it because it will jump out at you, demanding that you pay attention. This is no ordinary aha moment.
I call such an insight an Imperative. It orders and commands you to take action. Yes, you may initially refuse the call, as per Joseph Campbell’s description of a hero’s journey. But once it comes to you, it will keep nagging at you until you heed it.
Be ready for receiving your own Call to Adventure. It is a call towards your bliss and usually contains the instructions on what exactly you should be doing next in your life.
And most importantly, once you recognize it, be prepared to take action. And if the action required is radical or scary – hey, sometimes (or maybe usually) that’s exactly what it takes to break away from the old and embrace the new.
Yup, take Nike’s advice and just do it. If you do, you too will experience the power of the “invisible means of support,” and doors will open where you did not think there would be any.
I hope this helps. And I wish for you to find and follow your bliss,