The Difference Between Momentary And Lasting Happiness
Psychologist Myriam Rudaz explores ‘caring for bliss’ as a path to true happiness.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | May 31, 2022
A new study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology introduces a concept of mental health that is inspired by buddhist philosophy known as caring for bliss, i.e., practices that cultivate sukha or a state of unlimited, everlasting inner joy that is based on a peaceful state of mind and a compassionate heart.
I recently spoke to psychologists Myriam Rudaz and Thomas Ledermann of Florida State University to better understand 'caring for bliss' and its relationship with mindfulness and self-compassion. Here is a summary of our conversation.
What inspired you to investigate the relationship between mindfulness, self-compassion, caring for bliss, and well-being?
After having worked as a psychotherapist, I began to wonder more and more what leads to mental health and well-being.
Even when people sought help, many of them had a deep inner strength despite the adversity and trauma they faced, and they all yearned for the same thing: true happiness.
Interestingly, the Buddhist tradition talks about a true or genuine happiness, that is lasting and, unlike pleasure, does not depend on specific times, places, and circumstances, and therefore gives people the inner resources to deal with the ups and downs of life.
It is a happiness that can be described as an unlimited, everlasting inner joy or peace.
This inspired me to develop the concept of caring for bliss, which describes active practices or behaviors to cultivate genuine happiness.
There is ample evidence that mindfulness and self-compassion improve mental health and well-being. However, my co-authors and I wanted to know if caring for bliss can further strengthen this association and ultimately help people to live a happy life.
How did you study it and what did you find?
We used data from 683 college-attending emerging adults.
Although emerging adulthood is a positive experience for most, this stage of life is also turbulent with challenges, such as identity explorations and, for college-attending emerging adults, academic demands, leaving many vulnerable to stress and mental disorders.
So, we thought this could be an interesting population.
To gain a comprehensive picture, we measured one positive and one negative aspect of well-being: namely, flourishing and depressive symptoms.
As expected, we found that mindfulness, self-compassion, and caring for bliss correlated positively with flourishing and negatively with depressive symptoms.
In addition, caring for bliss moderated the effect of mindfulness and self-compassion on flourishing.
Specifically, caring for bliss enhanced the effect of high self-compassion on flourishing and compensated for the effect of low mindfulness on flourishing. For the negative aspect of well-being, we found, that caring for bliss buffered the effect of low mindfulness on depressive symptoms.
What are some everyday practices people can implement to improve their sense of "bliss"?
As I mentioned earlier, the concept of caring for bliss was inspired by the Buddhist tradition, in particular the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, as are the everyday practices I share here.
To me, the first and most important thing is that we must recognize in our everyday life that there is no unrealized condition that has to be attained (e.g., a perfect job, a dream house) before we can be happy, but that happiness inside of us is always possible.
But how can we attain inner joy and peace?
- One way is to generate feelings of happiness in the here and now. We can enjoy the wonders of life that are always present, such as the blue sky, the trees, or the smile of a child.
- Another way is to take time to acknowledge the things we are grateful for. I personally like the example Thich Nhat Hanh gives: When we have a toothache, we would be happy not having a toothache, but as soon as we do not have the toothache, we do not treasure the non-toothache.
- A last way is to listen deeply to the voice of our heart and to ask ourselves what we want to do in this life and whether this will make us truly happy. We may find that we want to help other people or bring love and compassion to the world.
These are three everyday practices I would recommend, besides mindfulness and compassion, to cultivate genuine happiness.
Do you have plans for follow-up research? Where would you like to see research on mindfulness, self-compassion, caring for bliss, and well-being go in the future?
More recently, I developed together with my colleague, Dr. Thomas Ledermann, a Stress and Resilience Training that incorporates mindfulness, compassion, and caring for bliss practices.
The feedback we received from the participants of the first training we conducted was very positive, and we are eager to learn from the data that we are currently collecting to evaluate the training.
It has always been my deep wish to do research that has a practical relevance and ultimately helps people to lead a fulfilled and happy life.
I think caring for bliss can contribute to this, and it is therefore my hope that future studies will continue to creatively integrate and explore the concept of caring for bliss and its impact on well-being.