Bliss defined by Merriam-Webster is ‘complete happiness’. What makes happiness complete? What is the contrast or complement to happiness necessary to balance into bliss? Perhaps that is the point of bliss, experienced beyond a single frequency emotion, rather a layered combination of feelings that come together to create a deeply personal state of joy.
Our human capacity to express bliss varies from spontaneous giggles, unintentional sighs, screams, tears, or even silently sealing our eyes shut, sinking deeper into our seat and finding a smile on our face without using check muscles. One may experience simultaneous feelings of exhilaration along with calm relaxation into a raw moment; often relished after a recently endured struggle, challenge, or dark period. A glimpse of light pierces through pain that blocked us from ourselves, energetically granting us permission to hope for more. Not more trite, superficial happiness, more appreciation of our darkness it's depth and discovery of lightness within. Beyond sight, bliss is an awakening, remembering or falling back into our being.
Bliss sparks our innate desire to be ourselves. We were all bliss experts as babies chilling in the crib, thrilled to discover our toes, bubble up with excitement over gas and squeal in awe of a loved ones’ face. As adults, we take classes, like yoga to relearn how to simply be this way. A very popular yoga pose is Happy Baby, Sanskrit name Ananda, meaning bliss, Balasana, meaning child’s. Practiced on our backs, we reach between our knees, guiding them toward our ribs as the soles of the feet face the sky, holding our big toes, outside edges of feet or ankles, whatever we can grab, rock a little side to side, maybe extending one leg then the other. We attempt to awkwardly recreate an experience that once required absolutely no instruction. As babies we all just explored these sensations as our birthright to discover what felt good, then did what felt good again and we continued to naturally develop our own patterns of bliss.
As adults we also learn how to artificially induce bliss pathways in the brain. Unregulated street drugs like cocaine, heroine, MDMA, and Ecstasy create short-term boosts of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and neuropenepheron, which ‘feel good’. Illicit drugs is cost our nation more than $700 billion annually relating to crime, lost work productivity and health care, in 2015 according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. We are living in an unparalleled illegal drug epidemic, arguably stemming from the legal pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical drugs designed to ‘block pain’ like opioids reported 18,893 overdose deaths in 2014. Drugs are the leading cause of accidental death, claiming an estimated 270 lives, in the U.S. each day, that is the equivalent of a 747 crashing, and killing all souls on board, daily.
We willingly accept these terms in our human evolution to manufacture ‘feeling good’. Think about the last time you opened a colorful box of mouth watering snacks, tore open a crinkly bag and reached in for a tasty treat. Before swallowing the first juicy bite, did you go in for more? More pleasure or distraction, rarely seeking nutritional nourishment. Or when we order food in a popular restaurant chain from a picture book of food porn, tantalized by abundant choices. A team of scientists and marketing executives carefully orchestrated your experience triggering all the senses beyond each blissful bite.
Manufactured food industries have their own strategy to effectively target our brain chemistry. Rather than ingesting the chemical to alter moods, researchers study formulas that not only taste good, they stimulate the reward center in the brain, so we crave them more. These specific combinations consist of fat, sugar and salt, are referred to as a Bliss Point.
Thanks to this expensive research, we have a template to play with our own natural combinations of bliss. Let’s breakdown our memories in components of a Bliss Point. For example, last week I was exhausted after a super challenging day. While driving along PCH, a song came on the radio that I hadn’t heard in years as a sunset unfolded magical colors around me. I turned up the music, rolled down the windows and smiled knowing that, I am okay.
Sugar- the obvious sweetness of the moment. PCH at sunset, music
Salt- the contrast to the sweet. Super challenging day
Fat- the depth or substance to form connection Felt I am okay.
Imagine, when you held a moment in the awe of just being in bliss. Maybe on vacation, with friends, family, or at peace in solitude, maybe exploring nature, cozy at home, maybe it wasn’t contrived at all but just a random sensation of it all coming together. Think about your memory as images and feelings. We are tapping into our subconscious, which does not understand words. Picture and feel rather than articulate and analyze, as our subconscious recognizes images, emotions and patterns. This is how we design powerful new patterns of bliss into our psyche.
Now just by searching your memory bank you are stimulating a dopamine pathway. Neuroplasticity is an empowering process for our brains to rewire patterns by accident or choice. Our brains are not cold plastic hardwired machines, rather warm, malleable and receptive to change throughout our lifetime. Neuroplasticity’s shows us that ‘neurons that wire together, fire together’. If we continue to connect blissful thoughts, feelings and actions, we build patterns leading back into that reward center, deepening these pathways and creating shifts in our brain chemistry which open our propensity for more bliss. The next time I was driving in the spot onPCH, that same feeling washed over me, I am okay and again when I heard that song reminded, I am okay. This happens by accident, yet the more aware I am, the more these 'accident' happen.
Recent research is proving antidepressants, designed to chemically block pathways that lead to depression may be as effective for sustainable change as sugar pills. Despite 1 in 10 Americans prescribed, earning an estimated $11 billion in revenue in 2011, antidepressants efficacy verses placebos stems in the power of belief. If we are choosing to consistently consume a substance, based on the belief of achieving desired results, we tend to also put effort into further supporting those results. That intrinsic motivation is alive in each of us, ready to be tapped from a well of abundance, rather than finite quick fixes from the outside.
Our modern culture spoon-feeds us false beliefs that we need to consume, making up stories for our ego to comprehend based on what we lack. Listing symptoms on drug commercials that we naturally relate to in any given hour with alluring marketing. These products may produce immediate gratification, at the expense of building dependency and the cycle of addiction ensues. Artificial bliss induces a craving for that stimulation, taking away our freedom to choose various combinations of sustainable bliss.
Our power to choose is a key component in our personal bliss process. As exemplified by a study of 2 groups of rats trained to stimulate their dopamine receptors using a machine. Group 1 randomly received the stimulation and group 2 had the power to choose when to receive the stimulation. The group that made the decisions themselves internally stimulated even more dopamine, producing a self-induced increase in their baseline dopamine levels.
Research shows positive thoughts stimulate dopamine with the power to produce lasting results. There was a study of people who planned a vacation, one group went and the other did not. The group that did not actually take the trip displayed the same increased mood, higher productivity at work, and even sustained their elevated mood and performance for a longer period of time, than the actual vacationers. The action of seeking bliss is as rewarding to our brains as the bliss itself. The importance is seeking within, filling up on the inside with thoughts, feelings and actions that make us feel good, not consuming pills, food and products that mask an ego driven void.
Bliss is not an ignorant happy face, quoting love and light, dreaming about calorie-free bread and smoking crack like a lady. We are raised to subscribe to our society’s manipulative consumerism, which is not only addictive; it is a vacuous existence, with possibly fatal results. We have choices to rely on short-term reprieve with full awareness of the sacrifices required to numb out, or emanate a sense of being where bliss begins to permeate organically all around us. As we remember who we really are with the capacity to cope without blocking nerves in our brain that we were born with for a reason, or mask the ugly pain that will continue to fester until we reveal its beautiful lesson. Choosing bliss is brave awareness of balance, abundant capacity of shadows and light. Willing to be with a range of contrasting feelings simultaneously, not just light up, but embrace the fall into bliss.