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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Difference Between Happiness and Bliss

In the last post, I wrote about happiness, and how it is not the same thing as bliss. I thought I'd take a moment to expand on the distinction, and also to discuss how they're intertwined.

To my mind, happiness is a conscious feeling of ease. It is an emotional state, and one often rooted in situation. Think of the moments after you turn in a big report or finish a tough exam, when you realize that you have achieved something and now have an opportunity to savor a moment of carefree existence, when nothing is worrying you and you have accomplished something big. It is a feeling of pleasure, to a large extent, and while extremely enjoyable, it is usually fleeting. Another report looms, there is always a new worry.

Bliss, on the other hand, is not as conscious, nor is it as much emotional as it is a state of being. It is a place of great balance, peace and equanimity, and it is much less susceptible to situation and circumstance. To experience bliss is to be deeply at peace with the nature of the world and the ways of life. Yes, that guy cut you off in traffic, but your equanimity allows it to roll off your back without provoking much of a reaction. This, by the way, is not the same as obliviousness. You are perfectly aware of what's going on around you--aware, even, of the malice of other people--and yet you are in a state that allows for you to continue on an even keel.

To me, bliss is a calm ocean beneath the boat, and happiness is what happens in the boat. The two are intertwined in the same way: without a calm foundation, the chances for happiness decrease, and the chances of seasickness--dis-ease--increase. The more you can cultivate a blissful state, the more you can experience the emotion of happiness.

So what if your boat is atop a roiling, troubled ocean? What can you do to attain equanimity and peace in your life? I'll blog about how to do that in my next post.

Let me know your thoughts on bliss and happiness in the comments, and I'll see you back here soon!

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1 comment:

Erzsebet said...

What you hint at, and I will state explicitly, is that one of the differentiators between happiness and bliss is a temporal aspect. Happiness is, as you state, "rooted in situation" and all situations are distinct dramas played out in time. Happiness is the emotional after-effect of a conscious realization that this moment, this situation is good and pleasing. As such, happiness will pass in and out of life, like party-goers passing in and out of the different levels or holds of your boat. It is the time-dependence of happiness that makes it changeable and unpredictable, and also what keeps it from being the sole litmus test for the presence of bliss. The oceanic existence of bliss is not rooted in the external situation (although that does play a part) so much as rooted in the worldview of the person building their bliss. As a result, bliss can be intentionally crafted independent of the question of happiness.

- Erzsebet