Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why Following Your Passion Doesn't Lead to Happiness

In work and in life

You might have heard the encouraging message that following your passion or finding your passion is the key to finding work and building a life that makes you happy. This message is a lot more dysfunctional than we make it out to be and can lead you to real trouble.

Why following your passion doesn't lead to happiness

The field of passion research is still relatively new and is dominated by Dr. Robert Vallerand's work that identifies both an obsessive and harmonious passion towards an activity. It's this obsessive passion that can lead you into real trouble, as it's been associated with inflexible persistence of an activity, to the extent that it negatively affects other areas of your life and your happiness. Basically, obsessively following your passion can lead you to misery.

As I've been working on my passion book (which will be coming out in the autumn of 2014), I've been reminded of why following your passion is bad advice. Here are some of the top reasons why:

  1. What if you don't know what your passion is? Do you avoid commitment to anything and do nothing at all?
  2. What if you know what you love to do but can't or don't want to build your whole life around this one activity? Does this mean you can't be happy?
  3. What if you build your whole life around "following your passion" and then realized it doesn't bring you the happiness you were expecting?
  4. What if you love doing many things? How do you know which "one love" to follow?

As you can see the traditional passion message is not as straightforward as it sounds. Many coaching clients have come to me with these questions and have been frozen in paralysis as they feel they can't move forwards in any direction until they know what their "one passion" is. They are stuck in a place that's dominated by procrastination and lack of action.

This is why "follow your passion" isn't always the right answer. Yes, of course doing things you enjoy makes you feel good and you should definitely incorporate those things into your life because they do fuel happiness. However you don't need to find your "one passion" to have a happy, fulfilling life. In fact, it's rare that many people have one passion in the first place, and even if they do, it might change over time.

"A warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does."

~ Socrates ~

My research in passion discovered that not all people choose to follow their passions. The individuals I interviewed chose to pursue their whole lives with passion without tying it to one specific activity. This helped them to find enjoyment and the surge of positive energy from many more things across their lives. In essence, they chose passion as a way of life rather than enthusiasm towards a particular activity (you can read my earlier post on Can You Find Happiness Through Passion to find out more).

In fact, the book I'm currently wrapping up is exactly about that. It will enable you to take a more proactive approach to passion, and unlock the positive passion energy that's already within you. It will show how you can stop chasing your passion and instead find love in what you do.

More from Psychology Today

More from Susanna Newsonen

More from Psychology Today