Time is perhaps life’s most valuable resource. So how do we spend it?
And how do we maximize that ever-desirable state in which we feel alignment with mind, body, heart, and unified self?
Let’s call it ‘Bliss:’ the deep breath and wide smile that is rarely seen, and worth always shooting for. We feel it when the cornerstones of meaning are large and weighty, and both happiness and joy coincide.
We portion our time as best as we can, crafting conditions for this blissful state. We balance family, chores, learning, eating, sleeping…
No matter your life path, there’s the big one: ‘Work‘
It’s more than okay to want Bliss — it’s more-or-less the engine that drives humanity. And, it’s okay when that state isn’t one’s current experience fully, too.
Before reflecting on the graphic below in relation to your work, consider that it is full of nuance, with each quadrant having flexibility and crossover.
And an important caveat before looking at this tool is understanding the goal. Attaining 100% Bliss, all the time, is impossible. And anything short of that is not failure. Rather, the goal is maximizing the time and presence we have in a state of ‘bliss.’
The above visual is your shortcut to understanding work that best fits your life.
**Scroll down further on this page to find an interactive “How full are your quadrants” Bliss Map.
Think of it like a cheat sheet or an equation that provides a perspective from which you can more confidently choose your next job, prioritize your life, and make sense of motivation.
Click around on the image. There is a page for each major quadrant, elaborating and clarifying its role in your life. You’ll find the same info for the other sections of the map.
You can see a full key of each combination on the Bliss Map, with examples for each portion, here:
‘Dials’, not ‘Switches’
Again, even the ‘perfect’ job includes tasks that aren’t at your intersection of Bliss. And not having the ‘perfect’ job doesn’t mean you’ve ‘failed.’
As with most things in life, psychology, and philosophy, things fall on a spectrum.
When looking at a job and asking how it falls on this Bliss Map, it’s likely something along the lines of “I’m about 20% good at it, 80% in love with it, ‘the world needs it’ varies a great deal, and it’s paying me 50% of what I need, but I have another job paying the other 50%”.
These percentages may represent how you think of your work as a whole, on average. And it’s even fluctuating from moment to moment.
To aid you in this visualization, click around on the interactive Bliss Map below. There is an ebbing and flowing of each quadrant and how it contributes to the whole.
There may be consider change within one day or one week. If you were to draw an average for you work, where would it be? Go ahead and click each quadrant to build the picture.
Whether measuring your Bliss in relation to your job as a whole, your job on a single day, or any other type of ‘work’ on any scale, it’s not a simple division of concepts with static measures. And that’s ok. Think of the bliss map as more swirly and pulsing than static: the intensity of the colors on each quadrant are changing at all times.
As you consider each quadrant or the Bliss Map as a whole, ask yourself, “How intense does my color tend to flow in the quandrant?” etc.
Parts and Pieces
Another important consideration is that this ‘map’ can help you assess any portion of your life, like a job, and can ALSO help you assess how different portions contribute.
For example, your current job may be one that pays, and does little else. Then, the question is “What outside of my job is a form of work that I’m good at, love, and the world needs?”
Ideally, we can find work that frequently fills each quadrant of the map, causing that middle “Bliss” to blink.
And, that can be difficult. So it’s helpful to be aware of this map as a recipe for Bliss, NOT only at work.
If you have a job that pays, the world needs it, and you’re good at it, it’s likely to help you tremendously to have a hobby or side hustle that you LOVE.
Portions of Bliss can be met within the same occupation. 40% might not be Bliss, but 60% may be. And there is much variation from person to person as well.
- 2 people with the same job may experience distributions on the bliss map quite differently.
- 2 people with very different jobs may experience quite similar distributions on their Bliss Maps.
Along with weighing the quadrants of the map, there is balancing practicality with idealism.
You’re unlikely to find any job/work that fills every quadrant 100%, all the time.
And that’s ok. People tend to have numerous occupations over their lifetime.
With the ever-changing nature of life and work, this map will give you much greater insight into what is at play. Especially when it comes to choosing a job (or choosing to quit one), we need to understand what we’re getting, and what we still need.
As mentioned above, anything short of non-stop Bliss isn’t failure. But with some careful consideration and changing of our lifestyle, we can live at the convergence of the 4 quadrants, in a state of ‘Bliss’ for a great deal of our lives.
What is ‘Work’?
“What do you do?”
It can be fun to answer that question with another one: “What does that mean?”
Throughout this page, we use the word ‘work’ a lot. This does not strictly mean a ‘job’. A job is a form of work, but work is not strictly a job.
Roughly put, work is something that you sink time and effort into. You commit yourself to a somewhat long-term to a project, cause, position, effort, vocation, skill, etc; when you do that, it’s work.
Sometimes work doesn’t pay.
Anyone who says your ‘work’ is strictly what you do for money is likely to have a job that they’re paid for, but is lacking in the other 3 quadrants.
With that said, you likely have several forms of work: thing that take time, effort, and focus and fill several of the Bliss Map quadrants. In this sense, what we’re really talking about here is Bliss MAPS. You can have multiple at the same time, not only in the context of 1 work-life job. In a lifetime, a person may have 35 Bliss Maps, of which the majority are not paid work. Each of these purposeful endeavors, when they’re a part of your life, have their own map, and, in summation with other active pursuits, will bring you a holistic sense of purpose or a sense of lacking purpose.
Nowadays, less and less people are working a single career. It isn’t uncommon for a person to have several jobs at once. And for more people than ever, a job may be short-lived. We have side-hustles, projects, and start-ups.
This affords a great opportunity: diversification.
You may have heard it said that it’s unrealistic to expect a spouse to meet all of your relationship needs. Likewise, you may have all the right reasons to continue working at a job, even if it doesn’t meet all the needs on your Bliss Map.
Looking at this map, you may feel like a veil has been lifted. Perhaps with a new sense of clarity, you see why you need to quit your current job.
And, more likely, you’re informed by this visual guide about what your work is lacking, inspiring you to supplement it with other forms of work that are strong in whichever quadrants are missing.
Taking care of one’s family, being part of a sports team, volunteering in a social endeavor, hosting meetups…examples of ‘work’ that may have their own Bliss Map are numerous. And when money is taken out of the map, a lot more purposes can surface, which, in a brainstorm context, can make something show up that otherwise would not have. Perhaps it’s a side purpose/project that will never make money, but give purpose by targeting the cornerstones of meaning. And then, something may come around that does provide financial sustainability. With these maps combined, one may experience a Blissful ‘work life.’
Consider that you are free to pursue purpose in multitudes, both with and without money. Diverse (yet intentional) approaches like this are growing more common, and can work well.
Remember the words of Kahlil Gibran from his chapter On Work in The Prophet: “Work is love made visible”.
And, as one of the 4 cornerstones of meaning, Love can take many forms.
Journey and End
There is a misconception that can be made with the Bliss Map:
- So, I can’t be happy unless some combination of these elements is met?
Well, it’s not quite like that. Happiness is a pretty wide concept. And it differs from joy. A key is the element of choice we have. And, much like life, work is a journey. It isn’t simply about the destination.
Think of work like having a meal. Let’s say the dish you’re eating would benefit from a touch more salt, and maybe some sour…a bit of dill or vinegar would do. Depending on your perspective, your meal may not satisfy you. However, a different choice/perspective may be filled with gratitude for the sustenance of the meal.
The goal with the map is to bring heightened awareness to the meal you’re experiencing. Yes, you may gain clarity on what would be needed to make it the most blissful meal imaginable. And, this doesn’t imply that anything short of that perfect meal is unacceptable.
Awareness of the Bliss map can help us escape the droll of the rat race, as highlighted in this video (only it’s more like choosing to climb many mountains in several ranges, and being able to do so somewhat simultaneously/interchangeably when not mutually exclusive).
Like wisdom, generally, the Bliss Map is additive, enhancing our awareness and ability, and empowering our choices. It needn’t detract from a good meal.
So, let’s say your typical lunch is 30% salty, 40% sour, 70% umami, and only 5% sweet (you never have dessert).
This lunch (your life, your work, or your time) can be a true gift, deserving of much gratitude.
AND, we’re here to tell you that you can aim high, creating the conditions in which you’re used to near 100 percents in every flavor profile, for every meal.
Each flavor (quadrant) is delicious! And they have a symbiotic element: combining flavors tastes wonderful and makes them each more wonderful and distinct than a particular flavor would be alone.
I might taste bliss by having a single quadrant really strong. With all of them strong, I’d be feasting on bliss! The quantity of “food” would be much more, and the combination especially delightful. When they are all not strong/topped off, the bliss would still be tasted, yet not enough to have that big, full, feast feeling.
When it comes to living your life, you deserve to optimize and have a full meal, with dessert, as often as possible.
This excerpt from Chicken Soup for the Soul’s ‘The Station’ captures the point well:
“Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows, we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.
But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour, we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there, so many wonderful dreams will come true and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering—waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.
“When we reach the station, that will be it!” we cry. “When I’m 18.” “When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz!” “When I put the last kid through college.” “When I have paid off the mortgage!” “When I get a promotion.” “When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after!”
Sooner or later, we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly out-distances us. […]
Looking at the Bliss Map can bring a dangerous misconception: that anything but pure Bliss is a failure.
In actuality, for any form of work to be Blissful all the time is next to impossible. Again, that is the idealistic end of a spectrum, and our hope is to find work that sits near this ideal often.
Imagine, as all 4 quadrants are periodically satisfied, the ‘Bliss’ in the middle blinking. Maybe that happens every day, here and there, or maybe every week, or a few times a month. Any of those could represent a wonderful job, career, or hobby.
Adjusting to Taste
A bit of salt here, some sugar there.
(Good At It + The World Needs It + In Love With It)
You may benefit from more comfort.
If you’re engaged in work that meets all of your needs, but isn’t paying you, eventually you’ll come against the cold, hard, reality of paying the bills. No matter your lifestyle, there will be expenses. Perhaps a utopian future awaits us, and we will all be able to explore our passions without a need for money, but alas, that time is not yet here.
It’s worth noting that if you HAVE money, negating the need for work, this quadrant holds little weight. But otherwise:
Consider getting a job that meets your most basic needs (food, shelter, etc) while allowing enough time for you to continue the work that is bringing you fulfillment.
Consider more tips HERE.
(Good At It + Paid For It + In Love With It)
You may benefit from more contentment.
You’re working a job you love, it pays decently, and you’re good at it. But what if it doesn’t serve a greater good. In our post-industrial world, it is all-too-common to work a job that has one feeling like a cog in a machine. We can be left asking ourselves “But why? What’s the point of all this?”
If you’re only going to work to pay the bills, even if you’re good at it and you love it, you may eventually face a sense of futility or pointlessness. Chances are that your world view begs you to serve a purpose larger than yourself.
Consider volunteering, or reserving time outside of work to contribute to a cause that you care about. To help you, we’ve collected tons of resources for service opportunities HERE, in our writing about the Service cornerstone of meaning.
Consider more tips HERE.
(World Needs It + Paid For It + In Love With It)
You may benefit from more satisfaction.
No matter what it is, if it’s work, there’s going to be ‘day in, day out’ element to it. That is, it will take persistent effort and require long-term commitment.
And we’re all built differently.
“The good life consists in deriving happiness by using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of living.” – Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness
If it’s in your wheel house, it’s home. Finding something you’re good at means you can find Flow, an optimal psychological state that, when achieved regularly, improves our well-being.
Consider pursuing a hobby or a side hustle that feels like a practice. Find a skill to hone and master, if you can’t find one at your job. Whether it’s juggling, woodworking, or coding, practicing mastery will give you a greater sense of engagement and purpose.
Consider more tips HERE.
(Good At It + Paid For It + World Needs It)
You may benefit from more fulfillment.
You’ve found work that the world needs, you’re good at, and it even pays. But for whatever reason, you don’t love it.
We’re complex creatures, with a range of needs and feelings. It’s often difficult to make sense of it all. We may look at our life and see that everything is ‘perfect’, yet be left with an inexplicable sense of incompleteness. Usually, this is when we lack meaning in our lives.
It may be that your work lacks community, or is even too social for your introverted self. Maybe you love everything about your job, but can’t stand working at a computer. Or maybe you hate working with your hands, and just wish you could work at a desk.
When push comes to shove, your work needs to have some degree of pleasure, or the drudgery is likely to wear away at you.
Consider ways to change up your work to bring you more enjoyment. Working at home and can’t stand the isolation? Find a co-working space or work at cafes. Can’t stand doing data entry all day long? Find a way to sing on the job, or listen to music so you’re enjoying your time.
Consider more tips HERE.
We have a page where you can simply see each portion of the Bliss Map individual, with a few examples of each. Find it here:
Sometimes, we’re missing more from our Bliss Map than we ever bargained for.
Work usually has its drudgery. Even the best jobs are likely to have some points of annoyance.
But in this post-industrial world, things can get much worse than simply ‘less-than-ideal’.
You probably know at least one person who works a job that they absolutely hate. Maybe you’ve been there.
Despite no shortage of media telling us that we’re a soon-to-awaken chosen one or a hero about to save the world, it’s easy to fall into traps of habit. We can find ourselves like Joe (vs. the Volcano), living in a dystopian world of machine-like work.
On the note of Hindrances to Bliss, there is a deserving mention:
There’s probably too much on your plate.
A lot of improvement in optimizing one’s Bliss Map comes from (rather than adding or changing one’s current work life) taking things away.
In this article from raptitude.com, an elegant case is made for taking things off of our proverbial ‘plate.’ As a product of our modernity, we seem to constantly pile up things that steal away our bandwidth, bit by bit, even if in pursuit of balanced Bliss.
And, maybe the best course is to remove overwhelm so that your Bliss Map can sparkle and pulse.
Work Life | Instead Of | Life Work
Happiness as a Hindrance
You may have thought about it already: “What if I’m feeling content to fill a couple of these bubbles, and not all four?”
Security is ever-pervasive human need, driving most of us more than we’d like to admit. It has a drastic effect on lifestyle; money and possessions provide comfort. Purposeful work does not, necessarily. Many of us sacrifice one for the other, and are ‘happy’ doing so…’just fine’.
This pseudo happiness is a form that can actually keep us in our comfort zones, keeping us further from living a meaningful life full of happiness AND joy.
We have a page devoted to exploring this topic. Please check it out if it feels like this may provide you insight.
We also have a fun page in which we look at different ‘levels’ of consideration of meaning in life:
The Dark Side of the Great Job
from Blake Boles’s article “In Praise of the Low-Income, High-Freedom, High-Purpose Career“, a concise and compelling layout of the dilemma of modern careers.
A “great job” might actually be a terrible job in terms of:
- freedom: having enough time to pursue your non-career interests, spend time with friends and family, go on adventures, work on side projects
- physical health: not constantly sitting; enjoying ample time for exercise and the outdoors
- mental health: not being constantly stressed and anxious; enjoying a sense of autonomy and an internal locus of control
- purpose: feeling like you’re making a positive contribution to the world
- wealth: accruing savings; avoiding debt (Yes, buying a home may still be a good form of debt. But for a 30-year loan of $300,000 at 5% interest, you’re also paying $280,000 in interest.)
Follow the theme: Meaning and Purpose.
Behind every quadrant of the Bliss Map is a ‘why’. When we answer that why, we create meaning IN life.
Such is the central purpose of this site: to help our readers find/create meaning within their lives.
You’ll find a model here for meaning as founded by 4 cornerstones:
Relating it to meaning, a valuable definition of Bliss could be this:
Bliss: honed Discovery, Expression in Service, and with and for Love
The recent decades of research in Positive Psychology have highlighted the importance of meaning and purpose in life to maximize well-being.
In Japan, there is a word to describe the reason a person has to get out of bed in the morning. At the intersection of what they are good at and what they love doing is a Japanese person’s Ikigai, their ‘reason to live’. Japanese elders who have found their Ikigai never retire. They live a slower and more content, confident way of life. They tend to live longer.
Your Ikigai, your Bliss, can be found by asking yourself these questions:
- What do I love doing?
- What am I good at?
- What am I paid well-enough for to be satisfied?
- What do I feel the world needs?
How many jobs are you likely to have throughout your life? Worried you still don’t have THE job? That concept may be a myth. The average person has 12-15 jobs in their lifetime.
The Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley highlights some keys to happiness at work. There is a lot of interplay with the concepts here on the site. In their article “The Four Keys to Happiness at Work,” they give their definition of happiness at work:
“Feeling an overall sense of enjoyment at work; being able to gracefully handle setbacks; connecting amicably with colleagues, coworkers, clients, and customers; and knowing that your work matters to yourself, your organization, and beyond.”
And share these 4 keys:
- Purpose – Our actions as a reflection of our core values
- Engagement – Are you involved with the where, when and how of your work?
- Resilience – Handle set-backs and stress with authenticity and grace
- Kindness – Giving and receiving kindness, or otherwise pro-social behavior.
Note that happiness is muddled here from our model: Engagement might be “Love it.” Purpose perhaps involves “World Needs It”, and maybe not. Resilience is the enabler of challenge and hope. Kindness is about love, which isn’t part of the Bliss map, directly.
Review Your Learning
The Bliss Map
What is it?
- A tool for understanding the components that contribute to a joyful life, especially concerning work.
- A memorable visual aid that clarifies weighing of what we need, what we are getting, and what we can get out of work.
How does it work?
- Look at the map and compare its inferences to your life and work.
- Use the map to assess the quality of any potential future work, careers, etc.
What do I do now?
All Bliss Map Pages:
The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry David Thoreau