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What's Your Passion?

Research shows that tapping into your life passions can lead to happiness.

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Ever since I was a little girl, my parents told me that when I grew up, I should do what I love and love what I do. Making a lot of money was not a huge criterion for choosing a career or profession.

For some reason, my mother assumed I would be a biology major in college, because she thought I would follow in the footsteps of my grandmother, who’d always wanted to be a physician. However, due to the interference of World War I, my grandmother was unable to fulfill that life passion.

Biology was not one of my strongest subjects, but I made it through my college studies and ended up becoming a registered nurse. I was in this profession for a few years, but all the while I made time to write. Ever since my mother bought me my first box of stationery, followed by my first journal, I knew that writing was an endeavor I loved. I always felt good when I was writing, and that’s how I figured out my life passion.

Passion may be defined as an inclination or desire to do something one likes to do or thinks is important to do. In one of his studies, Professor Robert J. Vallerand (2008) presented a concept he termed the dualistic model of passion. He identified two different types of passion, each having different outcomes—harmonious passion is when people do something because they love it in a controllable and manageable way; obsession passion is when people have an uncontrollable urge to become involved in an activity, and the outcome might not be as favorable.

Psychologists often ask the question: How do people conclude that their lives are worth living? Figuring out our passion is one way to do so, and having a harmonious passion is another way. When my students ask me how they can determine where their passions lie, I often ask them to look back into their childhoods to identify what brought them joy. Many know the answer without much reflection; in many cases, their life’s work is similar to their childhood passion. My next suggestion is to write an essay about what they would rather be doing. This provides great insight into what might bring them the most joy and fulfillment.

We are all in search of happiness, which is so often tied to life passion and doing what we were meant to do. Our passion is what we want to do naturally, not what sounds good or what others want us to do. Passion is the fuel that drives us to get out of bed in the morning; it moves us toward our goals. Sometimes, finding our passion simply has to do with listening to our inner voice and ignoring the noise around us telling us what we should do. It’s also about surrounding ourselves with people who have similar interests, and passions we admire. If we prefer being alone, sometimes it’s best to distance ourselves from others so we can hear our inner voice clearly.

Spanish poet and theater director Federico Garciá Lorca (1998) used the word duende, or life force, to signify a deep passion. Creativity and inspiration pull us toward duende. For the writer, the best art keeps the fire and ecstasy alive within. Lorca says that when the duende comes, it is followed by radical change, a sort of religious enthusiasm. Lorca believes that all the arts—especially music, dance, and poetry—are in touch with duende, basically because they need to be expressed and then interpreted.

In her book Exuberance: The Passion for Life, Kay Redfield Jamison claims that we’ve formulated many words for sadness and sorrow, but few words for having a passion for life. Exuberance, which goes hand in hand with a passion for life, is what compels us to go where we might not normally go. Exuberance brings us to a place where our imagination exists far from common, quieter places. Exuberance is what we feel when we’ve discovered our life passion.

Jamison writes about how John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt were exuberant men who knew early on that their life passion was to preserve nature. She said this about Muir: “He understood nature, felt nature, and then illuminated her to those who did not” (p 17). A huge part of finding one’s passion is sharing that passion with others—as Muir did through his art—in a most contagious manner.

Here are some tips for finding your life passion:

  • Think about when you felt or feel happiest.
  • Think about an activity you love doing.
  • Think or write about your values.
  • Think about what drives your decisions.
  • Do a self-assessment and identify your strengths.
  • Think about your current job and ask yourself, “Do I truly have a passion for it?”
  • Think about subjects you love talking about.
  • Think about what you’ve always dreamed of doing.


Jamison, K. R. (2005). Exuberance: the passion for life. New York: Vintage Books.

Lorca, F. G. (1998). In search of duende. New York: New Directions.

Vallerand, R. J. (2008). “On the psychology of passion: in search of what makes people’s lives most worth living. Canadian Psychology. 49 (1). pp. 1–13.

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