Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach.
Aimee: Hey folks, it's me, Aimee, here to chat about harmonious passions. So we've talked about our element of inspiration in the last several episodes, and our next element is savoring. Harmonious passions is this perfect thing to fit between those two elements. So I'm excited to talk about it. Before we dive into harmonious passion, though, I first wanna talk about the last half of this term, which is passions. So I'm sure you've all heard lots of quotes about passion. A few that make me want to [00:01:00] throw a rock through my mom's window are, "make passion your paycheck" make passion your work, and you will never work a day in your life."
Those rub me the wrong way, and I'll maybe explain why as we get into this. So I love what I do. I am passionate about it, but there have absolutely been times when I've burned out and I've had to ask myself, is this a passion or an obsession? So that may sound kind of extreme, but it is really common. I hope our chat today sort of highlights this.
So having a passion always gets touted as sort of the best. And when it's going good, it's associated with things like enhanced motivation, improved wellbeing, um, more of a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
But passion can also be associated with negative emotions, rigidity and compulsivity, exhaustion. These are massively different qualities to be associated with [00:02:00] this, uh, concept of passion. There's more in there. So a researcher, well known for a lot of research on motivation, Dr.
Robert Vallerand coined these two ends of the passion spectrum. One side is harmonious passion, it's related to all those feel good things I noted. The other side, is obsessive passions. Those passions can lead to things like rigidity, negative emotions, exhaustion. So here's the difference between the two.
Let's get into this because on their face, externally, these very opposite types of passion can look the same. It's funny as well though, um, that the etymology of the word passion, so in Latin, poeo means suffering or enduring. Puts another little twist on the word passion, right? "Make suffering your paycheck."
It's true for, unfortunately, too many folks. So let's get into it. Vallerand noted that harmonious passions [00:03:00] have a quality of autonomous internalization. That means we feel in control of the passion. We choose when to engage in it, uh, and it gives us pleasure. We'll talk about savoring in the next several episodes.
These harmonious passions are something we can savor. These harmonious passions also help us build skills and mastery, cultivate relationships, and all sorts of other joy and resilience boosting things. Passions can absolutely be a super powerful healing force in our lives. That's why we want to have harmonious passions.
Now, an obsessive passion has what Vallerand noted as a controlled internalization, really of the passion in our personal identity. It's like we lose control and the passion begins to rule us. We feel this internal pressure to participate in it often to satisfy some external [00:04:00] validation. And these activities, these passions, become really hard to savor because we feel controlled by them.
They can start to pull us away from other activities and relationships, and our own self care. So when we are stuck in an obsessive passion, we may feel like we're missing out on other stuff that we could have been doing had it not been for our passion. So you can imagine resentment rises up, frustration can set in.
We just can't savor the passion anymore when it dictates all of our decisions, often at the cost of our wellbeing. The logical sort of common endpoint to obsessive compassions is burnout.
So the classical article on this dualistic approach to passion comes from Vallerand and colleagues, back in 2003. The study relied on over 900 participants to really understand how, um, folks' passions either helped or hurt their overall wellbeing. Study was built on [00:05:00] like three smaller studies,
I'm gonna summarize them all quickly because I think it can really help us to see the difference between harmonious and obsessive passions. So in these series of studies, harmonious passions were related to feeling good while doing the activity and immediately after, pretty obvious. That's good. Also, if folks were prevented from engaging in their harmonious passion, they did not experience negative affect or cognition.
That means if life came up in some way, missing the activity would not drop their mood and they didn't feel like they would suffer negative consequences as a result of missing the activity. Now, for those whose passions, uh, would be considered obsessive, these were not associated with positive affect or cognition during the activity.
That means the participants actually didn't enjoy it when they were participating in their [00:06:00] passion. And if folks were prevented from engaging in their passion, they were more likely to experience negative affect. They had a drop in mood. This inability to engage in the activity, uh, would make them feel bad about themselves. There's something else that they found in the series of studies.
Uh, and it's something called non-productive persistence. That means doing something that doesn't return any value for you, and it may even harm you, but you just keep doing it. We've all been there, I think, stuck in the grind or the pit of doing something that just depletes you. There's an interesting interpretation for this finding,
you know, as it relates specifically to a passion here that I think is helpful. The researchers noted that this non-productive persistence may be due to the tendency for obsessive pa passions to be wrapped up in, um, our self-worth, [00:07:00] So that means we kind of anchor our self-esteem and our identity around this passion.
It becomes almost solely who we are. It's our self-worth. Without this passion, I'm nothing. Without succeeding in this, I'm nothing. So there's this obsessive side of passions. There's this harmonious side, and I think we really need harmonious passions in our life. It's worth it to tease them apart and to cultivate harmonious passions to back off on ones that have become obsessive.
I really like the wisdom here from um, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He says: "To have a good life. It is not enough to remove what is wrong with it. We also need a positive goal, otherwise why keep going?" So how we check in to see if something is harmonious or obsessive, and then to recalibrate if we need to? There's a pretty simple practice proposed by Dr.
Barbara Frederickson. So let's do it right now. [00:08:00] We'll just start first with really identifying if something is a passion. So here's the question. Is there an activity, interest of yours that comes up in your daily thoughts? Just pops up?
So if something takes up some space, if you think about it daily, pops up randomly. Might be a passion. If nothing pops up, it's fine, just listen in. Nothing has to arise. I think building harmonious passions is a byproduct of Joy Lab. So just sit back and relax.
Now, if something did pop up in your mind, Dr. Frederickson then suggests we can check in to tease these two passions apart. So, how do you feel when that passion, possible passion rises up. How does your body feel when it pops up? Do you feel open, does it make you smile, send a little happy rush? Maybe a bit of inspiration or motivation? If so, that's [00:09:00] probably a harmonious passion.
On the other hand, did you feel some tension when your passion popped into Did you feel a bit of anxiousness or constriction? Did it feel kind of looming? Maybe even guilt or agitation or resentment sort of rose up? If this sounds more true for you though, this might be an obsessive passion.
I'll give a quick example. So early in my undergraduate years, I became passionate about increasing access to mental health and bashing the stigma of mental health. Read all the books, attended all the classes, watched all the things. I worked all the time toward this. And when this passion popped into my head, I'd feel kind of frantic, desperate. Insecure.
I had to make this happen. I had to spin my wheels to help as many people as I could. So I, I kind of built up my self-esteem based on how much I knew how many people I could help, helping others [00:10:00] became sort of wrapped up in my own self-worth. And I used my passion as a busy, busy excuse not to do my own healing work or just make time to care for myself. So burning out, exhaustion, sort of became a sign that I was doing the work. I was so committed. And this is socially endorsed, hustle culture, productivity, busyness. We'll talk a lot about those things in the next several episodes on savoring, we've built obsessive passions into the fabric of our working lives
in the US. There's a lot of pressure to make passions your identity, pursue them with everything to get into the fancy college, to turn it into a business, into your brand, use it to build your social media following. So my passion had a leash on me. It was pulling me around in a socially acceptable way, overworking, uh, and I've worked at this a lot, but I still have to
check in [00:11:00] on my work and back off at times. Cause I do, I love what I do, but it's no longer an avoidance, uh, strategy. It's no longer an obsession. So we can recalibrate things that maybe have veered toward, obsessive, we can scale back. Like to follow Lilly Tomlin's advice here:
"For fast acting relief. Try slowing down."
Sometimes it's that simple of just backing off of a passion. I can hear the criticism. If you wanna succeed, you have to have the extra edge. You need to be hustling all the time. You need to make all the sacrifices. And it's, it's just not true. The same study, and there's others I've been referencing, uh, Vallerand and colleagues, noted that because harmonious passions are associated with more flexibility in thinking and improved focus,
also associated with feelings of less pressure and anxiety, then even if your passion is your paycheck, it is likely to your advantage [00:12:00] to keep it on the harmonious side of the spectrum.
Ask any athlete who has, um, veered into obsessive passion, it will crush your game. Your mental game and then your performance on the court, on the field, whatever. It's the same for all of us. So if you have access, it can be really helpful to work through the dynamics of this with a therapist or with a trusted friend if you don't have access.
Identifying some of those things that are fueling the obsessive pattern of your passion, uh, is very helpful. But it can be kind of hard to see the situation when you're soaked in it. So a loving friend or a practitioner who can offer some outside perspective, um, might be helpful.
And then one other simple strategy, I'll gave you the other one of just backing off, slowing down. But another one to, consider is to cultivate a new, harmonious passion. Something that engages you, that [00:13:00] makes you smile when you think about it.
Something that you won't start a new business around. Something that is easy for you to get started on right away. So for me, that was learning how to make macaron, the french pastry cookie. Um, I wanted something to do that was scientific, but creative. Something that I could eat, something that I could share with others. Uh, macaron were perfect as well because those things are so expensive and I could not afford to buy them at the rate I wanted to eat them.
So this was like the sweet spot, literally the sweet spot, for harmonious passions for me. Um, and I am passionate about it now. I don't know if I will be in six months, which is great. You don't have to pick something that will stay with you forever. You don't have to pick something that you're even good at. I was terrible at the start.
I'm still not very good at making those cookies, but they taste good. Uh, and I like the process. [00:14:00] It's fun. You know, it's something that just ignites some good feelings when you think about it and participate. Outcome, expertise, marketability, those are not what give harmonious passions their power. So there is something, even if it's really little or seems silly, or only gives you a little flicker or a light, try it.
Do it. It'll create a bit more harmony in your life. Or as I said, maybe there are some shifts you wanna make in your current passion that has maybe veered toward obsessive. Uh, backing off. Resting more. Seeing it in a different light, and then perhaps that spark can come back, or maybe it's time to turn the page and explore something new.
So I, I hope that you have, found a little bit of insight here with harmonious and obsessive passions, maybe some inspiration to engage in something that has been on your mind. [00:15:00] That makes you smile. Or to recalibrate and find something or a balance that can be a bit more nourishing. And I'm gonna end with some wisdom from the brilliant scholar and theologian, Howard Thurman:
" Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself, what makes you come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
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