Passion and Happiness

Yesterday’s discussion of ambition got me thinking about similar topics and led me down a rabbit hole of various ideas around the subject of passion – the topic of today’s post. For our present purposes we are discussing passion as love or joy for some form of art, leisure, activity, vocation, career or such rather than in romantic or amorous sense.

As we defined ambition, so too must we define passion for purposes of today’s passage. The OED defines passion as “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.” Passion is important because it is the fuel that feeds the flame of human emotion, behavior, and activity without which we would be more akin to mindless drones rather than animated beings.

Yesterday’s discussion on ambition got me thinking about passion because one could argue that the most ideal form of ambition for any individual is an ambition to achieve or improve in some way that directly correlates to that for which they are highly passionate. You don’t have to think hard to think of individuals who are ambitions for all the wrong reasons, lending their efforts and their ambition towards some sort of aim for which they are not passionate. Picture a young adult hell bent on earning a college scholarship for a sport about which they have little love, but are pursuing all the same more to win the approval of an overbearing parent rather than enjoyment for the game. Picture the middle-aged professional determined to impress their bullying high-school classmates by achieving wealth and recognition within their career even though they’d rather be doing something lesser-paying though more rewarding. The world is full of such people and its possible that we ourselves have fallen into such traps before. I can remember multiple times in my life where I had ambition but only fickle amounts of drive because there was no passion in what I was doing. (Interestingly enough, I looked up the definition of discipline to see in what ways if any it opposed the definition of passion and came up with the following: the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience – more than one definition included the word punishment – what sort of way to be is a punishing existence??)

Maria Popova, who runs the amazing Marginalian website (formerly Brain Pickings) had this to say on the subject: “if you’re looking for a formula for greatness, the closest we’ll ever get is consistency driven by a deep love of work.” Naval Rakivant would share similar sentiments, saying: “If you’re not 100 percent into it, somebody else who is 100 percent into it will outperform you. And they won’t just outperform you by a little bit—they’ll outperform you by a lot because now we’re operating the domain of ideas, compound interest really applies and leverage really applies.”

The point that both of these far wiser and more accomplished individuals than myself are making is that discipline only gets you so far. I know there is a strong movement of equally successful individuals, not insignificant in number, who would argue that discipline will trump passion because discipline does not fail and it shows up without fail on good days and bad days. I am a big believer in the power of discipline, counting it among one of my most cherished values and having on many occasions realized great personal triumphs largely due to discipline. But discipline without passion will only fall short of the individual who can bring both discipline and more importantly passion to any endeavor.

If you have discipline for a goal but no passion, why are you doing what you do? It raises a paradox of sorts: if we are being disciplined in our aim for a goal but not passionate about that goal, why would the goal be worth pursuing to begin with? Not every goal will present the most wondrous or exciting opportunity but every goal worth having should invoke a feeling of passion. Take working a menial job for example, it isn’t fun but it allows us to care for our family – about whom we are passionate and whose care we passionately pursue ergo we approach our work without passion. If passion is absent then that should raise a red flag about why we do something.

The beauty of the matter is that when we apply ourselves towards something about which we are passionate, the effort seems to diminish while the results seem to come more easily. As Henry David Thoreau said: “the really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of peace and leisure.” That which we do ought not to feel like a trip to get a cavity filled at the dentist, something we do because we must not because we want to, but instead something about which we are excited, something where we can spend hours without glancing at the clock or imagining ourselves elsewhere. Yes, there will be projects and deadlines that may sometimes rouse us to action when we are not in the mood but often enough when we apply ourselves towards our passions, that love of our work finds us diligently going about our task and the quality of our work and our lives is enriched thereby. The quality of work done by a disciplined but dispassionate person will drip with resentment and a lack of quality compared to the efforts of one who is passionate.

It isn’t about comparing the work of a disciplined individual to a passionate one, the root of suffering is comparison of oneself to others, but it is about comparing what your life can be to what it is. If your life lacks passion you owe it to yourself to discover that passion or to live a life fulfilling your passion rather than to toil away at something that goes against yourself, for that is the definition of unnatural behavior. To thine own self be true.

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