Keeping passion at bay or surrendering blindly to it - which of these two attitudes is the least destructive? I don't know. ~Paulo Coelho
I’ve posed this question to myself for the past week, since Lisis’s post Networth vs. Selfworth: The Passion Paradox at her blog QuestforBalance. There’s been a slew of great posts this week in response, all of them listed at the end of hers, so I would recommend heading over there and checking them out. They’re all worth a read.
Ultimately I began to wonder whether passion is really required for a meaningful life. After all, that’s what most people are ultimately seeking, not necessarily the passion itself. And that’s where marketers mostly seem to cash in on the passion principle.
Passion is a necessity, or so we’ve been told (and sold) over and again. Passion is something we should have regarding our work, at least says the title of many best-selling books. This idea presupposes that we have a passion to “follow” or “cash in” on, and that this is the best way to live. And if you don’t have one? Well, there’s help out there for that, too! There are countless books on how to “find” your passion and thus live your life’s purpose.
Passion and Purpose
So far, the assumptions go like this: we must have passion (or “a” passion), and if not we should find or discover it. This will give us purpose (which is associated with meaning). So, passion equals purpose. Also, if we’re particularly lucky or skilled, we get to have even more purpose because we turned our passion into work. Now we can experience passion with more frequency, so our lives are even more meaningful. If you really don’t buy this formula, there are plenty of salesman out there willing to convince you (but then you will buy it… literally).
So the path is as so:
Find Your Passion -> Live a Meaningful Life
(and further down the “path to fulfillment”):
Sustain Your Living from Your Passion -> Live an Even More Meaningful Life
So What is Passion, Anyway?
Before I could go any further thinking about this promised path, I really needed to get a clear handle on the meaning of passion. According to Merriam-Webster, passion is:
extreme, compelling emotion; intense emtotional drive or excitement; and or a strong liking or desire or devotion to some activity, object, or concept
So passion is mostly emotional, and or a state of strong desire. (It’s worth pointing out here the etymology of the word, its Latin and Greek roots, have to do with suffering and agony. Just food for thought.)
What’s the idea behind this passion requirement, really? Are we to find something that causes us to experience extreme and compelling emotional states? Are we better off living with a strong desire for (or devotion to) that activity, object, or concept? Is this really necessary in order to live a meaningful life?
Emotional states are fluid and changing, and extreme emotional states usually aren’t sustainable, nor should they be (for the sake of our mental health). Yes, excitement and extreme pleasure feel good and we like them, but strong desires for those extreme states often lead to suffering when they can’t be fulfilled. (Interestingly, that brings us back to the root of the word…)
A Deeper Look: A Psychological Needs Study on Passion and Activities
A recent psychology study on passion (in which the authors reference the very scant amount of research in this area) defines passion toward an activity as: Keep Reading…