Reflecting on our passions to change our life | Positive Psychology Concepts Series

Many of us are multi-passionate and there is increasing evidence that most people can benefit from each passion.

Passion plays a central role in our lives. It can enhance our motivation, energy, and even provide us with purpose and meaning¹⋅⁴⋅⁵. Our passions are part of our identity. It is not uncommon to see people define themselves through their activities (e.g., runners, athletes, parents). This is often observable on social media, where people share their passions in their biographies and create personas around their interests. On social media, but also in real-life settings, passion can promote the creation of new interpersonal relationships. Moreover, passion most likely plays a role in the quality of our relationships⁶. On the one hand, if we share our passions with our loved ones, this may strengthen our relationship because we have meaningful conversations about it and feel connected to each other. On the other hand, if our passions keep us away from our loved ones, it may hinder our relationships.

Passion plays a central role in our lives. It can enhance our motivation, energy, and even provide us with purpose and meaning.

As we devote a great amount of time to our passions, it is normal that we wish to share them with our friends and relatives. For instance, from 2016 to 2020, I was really active on social media. I had a running blog called She runs Montreal, and I shared about my running journey every day on Instagram. I am grateful for the people I met through Instagram and the moments we shared on this platform or in real-life events, such as official races.

Passion can bring out the best and the worst in ourselves. While harmonious passion leads to positive consequences, obsessive passion can lead to maladaptive outcomes.

In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, we all know someone who has found a new passion for watercolour painting, gardening, or baking bread. When our basic psychological needs are not met, passion tends to become obsessive⁹. For instance, when lockdowns limit our capacity for social interactions and we have a passion for baking, we might throw ourselves excessively into this activity to seek a sense of self-worth. We may feel an uncontrollable urge to bake, and end up neglecting other parts of our life. You may even induce fear in your neighbours as they apprehend your knock on the door as you bring them a seventh loaf of bread for the week and it’s only Wednesday…

When our basic psychological needs are not met, passion tends to become obsessive.

Let’s remember, however, all the benefits of passion, including enhanced resilience and many positive outcomes. As a researcher, I am currently studying whether obsessive passion can be adaptive during the pandemic lockdown. In extraordinary times, obsessive passion may help us cope with uncertainty.

Most passions are both harmonious and obsessive to some degree… However, taking time for other important activities and areas of our lives is one of the many ways we take care of ourselves.

Every few months, try to take some time to think or journal about your different passions. Do you think they are harmonious or obsessive? What can you do to make them as harmonious as possible (e.g., challenge your beliefs about your activity, quit social media)? As Cal Newport would say — one of my favourite authors and researchers — through these different life buckets (e.g., family, friends, work, rest, leisure), you can build a deep life¹².

  1. Vallerand, R.J. (2015). The Psychology of Passion: A Dualistic Model. Oxford University Press.
  2. Vallerand, R. J., Blanchard, C., Mageau, G. A., Koestner, R., Ratelle, C., Léonard, M., … & Marsolais, J. (2003). Les passions de l’ame: on obsessive and harmonious passion. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(4), 756.
  3. Schellenberg, B. J., & Bailis, D. S. (2015). Can passion be polyamorous? The impact of having multiple passions on subjective well-being and momentary emotions. Journal of Happiness Studies, 16(6), 1365–1381.
  4. Schellenberg, B. J., Verner‐Filion, J., Gaudreau, P., Bailis, D. S., Lafrenière, M. A. K., & Vallerand, R. J. (2019). Testing the dualistic model of passion using a novel quadripartite approach: A look at physical and psychological well‐being. Journal of Personality, 87(2), 163–180.
  5. Philippe, F. L., Vallerand, R. J., & Lavigne, G. L. (2009). Passion does make a difference in people’s lives: A look at well‐being in passionate and non‐passionate individuals. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 1(1), 3–22.
  6. Philippe, F. L., Vallerand, R. J., Houlfort, N., Lavigne, G. L., & Donahue, E. G. (2010). Passion for an activity and quality of interpersonal relationships: The mediating role of emotions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(6), 917–932.
  7. Vallerand, R. J. (2010). On passion for life activities: The dualistic model of passion. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 42, pp. 97–193). Academic Press.
  8. Bélanger, J. J., Raafat, K. A., Nisa, C. F., & Schumpe, B. M. (2020). Passion for an activity: A new predictor of sleep quality. Advanced online publication. Sleep.
  9. Lalande, D., Vallerand, R. J., Lafrenière, M. A. K., Verner‐Filion, J., Laurent, F. A., Forest, J., & Paquet, Y. (2017). Obsessive passion: A compensatory response to unsatisfied needs. Journal of Personality, 85(2), 163–178.
  10. Lopes, M., & Vallerand, R. J. (2020). The role of passion, need satisfaction, and conflict in athletes’ perceptions of burnout. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 48, Article 101674.
  11. Carbonneau, N., Vallerand, R. J., & Massicotte, S. (2010) Is the practice of yoga associated with positive outcomes? The role of passion. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(6), 452–465.
  12. Deep questions with Cal Newport. [Podcast]. https://www.calnewport.com/podcast/

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