Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion.
His work covers many aspects of the human experience. Campbell’s magnum opus is his book titled The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies.
Since publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell’s theory has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists.
His philosophy has been summarized by his own often repeated phrase: “Follow your bliss.” This most quoted and arguably misunderstood sayings was his admonition, an idea that he derived from the Upanishads:
Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.
He saw this not merely as a mantra, but as a helpful guide to the individual along the hero journey that each of us walks through life:
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.
Campbell began sharing this idea with students during his lectures in the 1970s. By the time that The Power of Myth was aired in 1988, six months following Campbell’s death, “Follow your bliss” was a philosophy that resonated deeply with the American public—both religious and secular.
During his later years, when some students took him to be encouraging hedonism, Campbell is reported to have grumbled, “I should have said, ‘Follow your blisters.'”