This title is taken from Joseph Campbell. He uttered the phrase in one of his series of interviews which come under the title Power of Myth. I loved the phrase so much that I couldn’t get it out of my head. I also think that it is a useful idea. I am not sure, but I think Campbell gave this answer in response to a question of the interviewer on how to find ones purpose. In clear terms he advises that we should do what we love if we want to find our purpose.
A reasonable objection to this assertion would be this. Is it reasonable to follow your bliss when following it is detrimental to your wellbeing? Let me make this question more concrete. Is it worth being the greatest smoker who ever lived? Assuming there is a criteria for deciding that. Maybe you enter the Guinness Book of Records for smoking the highest number of cigarettes per minute. Deciding others’ values for them will be hardwork. This is not to say that I don’t think some values are superior to others. In this essay I assume that you have identified your bliss, and by whatever method you have concluded that it is good for you.
A few comments before I take on the subject. I have been reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces which was written by Joseph Campbell. I keep telling myself that the book can be a lot clearer. Campbell sometimes writes like a mystic. He often makes allusions which are not embedded in fact. I think this practice was a disservice to his topic which I find fascinating. This topic is the hero’s journey in ancient myths. I can’t help but imagine if the great Karl Popper had written the book. How precise the language would have been! I have respect for Karl Popper. He makes a conscious effort to avoid vagueness in his writing. He succeeded in doing this even when his subject was complex. So I am grateful for the Power of Myth interviews because it presents Campbell’s ideas without the accompanying esoteric language. Sometimes I am tempted to think that clear writing is a gift, although it can be learned. I have also observed that one can be vague in writing, but it is not as easy to be vague in speech. Another observation I have made is that if one is painstaking one can be clearer in writing than speech. This observation can be because one can expand more widely on concepts when writing than when speaking. There’s also usually greater restrictions on how long you can speak than write. The Power of Myth series helped me understand Joseph Campbell’s message in a simple way that isn’t replicated in his writing.
I return to the topic proper- follow your bliss. I would like to share a few impressions about it. To do this, I will like to link following ones bliss to an advice Naval Ravikant gives about reading. It is this. Read what you love. Another advice is that you should read because you want to educate yourself. The goal shouldn’t be to appear sophisticated or impress others. Of course it is natural to want others to be aware of your erudition. It is however better if you don’t make that your ultimate goal. Let’s apply this advice to following ones bliss. It would be a truism to do what one loves. The second advice reinterpreted in terms of doing what one loves would be this. Do things because you love doing them not because you want to impress others.
There’s something sacred about finding a passion. You love the thing for its own sake. You would do it without reward. You might not even mind losing something in order to be able to do it. It is one of the highest feelings man can ever feel. It entails sacrifice. Sometimes you would labour in darkness, no one knowing or caring about what you are up to. Let the world worry about itself! It seems to me that the way to find meaning is to do what you love and try to do it to the best of your ability. You don’t have to be famous. That you wouldn’t be famous doing what you love is no reason for inaction. What is essential is to consistently produce quality work. I am reminded of a message Tony de Mello presents in his book the Way of Love. It is this: create space to do things you love which no one is aware of. It is a call for solitude. There is nothing inherently wrong with fame- it has its advantages. What seems right to me is to do what you love in spite of zero popularity. There’s no feeling as miserable as knowing that you are not doing what you love. How can you live with such a feeling?! If you find what you love everything falls into place.
Just a few comments on fame. We are conditioned to believe that anything that doesn’t make us famous is not worthwhile. This is not true. Satisfaction comes in giving off ones best. In the end we are not judged by our fame, but by the thought that we were able shine our light. We will be our own jugdges when we are alone with our thoughts. We will know the truth because we can’t runaway from ourselves.
It is possible to love something that wouldn’t pay enough for you to satisfy your material needs. In a situation like that what you love will have to remain a hobby rather than a career. But this is no reason to stop doing it. You need to have a job that gives you enough space to perform your hobby. It is also not obvious that your hobby can’t transition into a career. Besides, you wouldn’t know until you try.
It is also not obvious that one skill is better than another. Or that one career is better than another. I assert that this is true irrespective of how much people will pay for it. Price depends on how people value things, not necessarily anything intrinsic in them. Thus, prices can be subjective and based on whims. Having said that, I think my assertion is not watertight. It might lead someone to think that a fortune teller is as useful as a medical doctor. But that wouldn’t exactly represent my point. I am saying that it is not obvious that one career is better than another inspite of how much those who work in those careers are paid. The emphasis is on compensation. This would be true if you don’t have a bullshit job, i.e, you love what you do. Although I feel uncomfortable comparing a fortune teller to an M.D, I would still hold that it isn’t obvious that one is more valuable than the other. I can’t think of an objective way of defining value. It isn’t impossible to imagine a society where fortune tellers are wealthier than doctors. In fact if you look around you will see that this phenomenon is quite present in our society. My point is that compensation shouldn’t be the sole reason for choosing to act a certain way, although it can be a factor for choice of action.
I took a break from writing this essay. I write with outlines. Under this paragraph this was the outline- “The problem with the idea. Jordan Peterson.” This was the idea I wanted to develop. I thought it would be peripheral and that I would deal with it only in passing. Maybe I wouldn’t use many words to develop the point; however this outline shakes the foundation of the entire essay. Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist. I love him. I especially like how articulate he is. I have known from listening to some of his interviews in the past that he is against the idea of pursuing happiness. You might think- if not happiness what is there to pursue? His answer will be meaning. I will develop this point soon. So my initial idea was to explain that we see what we are doing to be meaningful when we love it. I think this way of dealing with the objection to my essay is problematic. In fact I am convinced that the idea of following your bliss in itself is untenable. I came to this conclusion after listening to Jordan Peterson’s Biblical Series lectures on Genesis. In one of the lectures he specifically mentions Campbell’s idea of following your bliss- the same idea developed here- and says it’s a bad idea. This is what he says. The idea of following your bliss says that you should do what makes you happy. That is what you love. It is not a bad idea. However it seems that you are lucky if you are able to do things that make you happy. In the grand scheme of things, there might be more suffering than happiness. So instead of pursuing happiness it might be more worthwhile to search for meaning as Viktor Frankl posits his book Man’s Search for Meaning. From the book, meaning seems to be to have a direction. A lofty goal which makes you face each day even when life is miserable.
I agree that finding meaning is more important than simply following your bliss. However, I think that a conscious effort to search for happiness isn’t a bad idea. Striving to be happy can lead to happiness, whatever happiness means. Tony de Mello has this paradoxical idea that happiness is not something you find out there. All you have to do is get rid of your social conditioning. Nothing will give you lasting happiness. No person. No object- not new cars, clothes or a house. I believe this is true. As I have tried to not let material things rule my life I have felt better. I intentionally use “felt better” because like Solon, I believe that you can only say you are happy when you are dead. Why? Because no matter how happy you think you are today something so terrible can happen to you which can make you revise your view on existence. This reinforces Jordan Peterson’s idea about the futility of the pursuit of happiness.
Another thing I have been thinking about in relation to following your bliss or doing what you love is what it means. I tried to explain what it means in the introductory paragraphs but I am not satisfied with my effort. Life is strange. Why do some things interest us and not others? It seems there is nothing you can do about that. When I said I have been thinking of what it means to follow ones bliss, this is what I mean: it is not obvious to me that having found yourself interested in something, you will find yourself effortlessly mastering it. In fact, any effort at mastery will require a great deal of boring repetitions. Maybe it’s like marriage; love can get you started, but it won’t get you to the end. So where does doing what you love come in?
So I am not certain that following your bliss is the right thing to do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing too; except that it seems lacking in some respect. It seems to me the right thing to do is to have a big hairy audacious goal, and actually try to accomplish it. This makes life meaningful.
Thank you for reading.