Time Out

Notes from a flaming moderate

Passion or Contentment

Which do you choose?

Conventional wisdom favors passion.  “Follow your passion!,” commencement speakers urge. “Whatever you do, do with all your heart!” reads a bumper sticker. Passion is the key to the good life, these advisors advise.  Pursue passion with a passion, and everything else will follow. As far as popular culture is concerned, there’s no doubt about it; passion is in, it’s hot, passion is what gives life meaning.  Passion, they seem to say, is the secret sauce in the hamburger of life. 

How many movies have you seen with plots that pivot on this question: will the heroine choose the wild, passionate man for a life of drama, conflict, unpredictability and passion, or will she choose the man whose love is firm and deep, a man she can depend on to build a life of contentment?

In romantic drama, passion vs. contentment is a forced choice.  Either or.  Real life is free to be more complex, and in real life passion and contentment are forces to be balanced.  They are energies that co-exist; they are notes that harmonize.

Passion can be tricky.  At its best, when carried away by romance, or in the flow state of any activity, passion makes one feel particularly, gloriously alive.  Passion is a perfumed wind…extraordinarily delicious, delightful, not to be missed…and fleeting. 

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But passion also has a dark side. Passion unleashed can become obsession—a harsh wind that blows away much of what’s good in life.  Great philosophers long ago recognized passion as the enemy of reason.  Do you what they meant? Take a quick look at today’s news, and see how many stories you can find that feature passions gone out of control, and their victims.

Contentment has a dark side, too. Contentment can also be out of balance. Contentment can become excessive, and where it does there we find lethargy, apathy or smugness.

In a good life passion and contentment live together in harmony; sometimes one dominates, sometimes the other.

To return to our earlier metaphor…If passion is the special sauce in life, contentment is the rest of the ‘burger.  Bon Appétit!



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Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D., is affiliated with the Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management at the George Washington University.


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