How Passion Can Make You Happy — or Unhappy

Author: Casey Gale       

Photo courtesy of Daniel Lerner.

Success does not always equate to happiness.

Daniel Lerner, a professor at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania and performance coach, observed that firsthand in his work — some of the most gifted individuals fail to find personal fulfillment despite reaching highs in their professional lives.  When Lerner set out to find out why, one particular factor stood out. “The fact that really seems to be emerging that makes the massive difference between being successful and being happily successful,” Lerner said,”is the scientific study of passion.”

“Passion” can be simply defined as an intense desire or enthusiasm for something, but there are two different types — and that can determine whether one’s passion is toxic or healthy, Lerner said. At the recent ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo in Toronto, where Lerner was a speaker, he explained what it means to be obsessively passionate, and why those who pursue harmonious passions will always feel happier.

Obsessive Passion

Individuals who are obsessively passionate pursue their careers for wealth or status, and often are afraid to fail. An obsessive passion can overwhelm someone’s life. “Those people who are obsessively passionate are rated as colder, they have far fewer friends,” explained Lerner. “They’re also rated as less moral and more likely to cheat.” For example, obsessively passionate athletes “get more injured and get injured more often — long-term and acute — and they feel guiltier when they’re not practicing,” said Lerner. “We find they can’t focus and, at the end of the day, they’re more likely to burn out.”

Harmonious Passion

A harmonious passion, on the other hand, blends seamlessly into a person’s every day, and allows them to remain present and mindful of other aspects of life, such as relationships or other interests. “The very foundation is that you do it because you love it,” said Lerner. Those who allow themselves to pursue harmonious passions are “rated as warmer, they’re rater as more collegial, they’re rated as more collaborative. They’re also rated as more creative,” Lerner said. Instead of fighting to achieve tangible success, like money, those who follow their harmonious passions merely pursue what they love to learn, rather than to win. Even if work is not one’s greatest passion, merely having other harmonious passions — reading, gardening, and the like — Lerner has found that people will begin nurturing harmonious passions in other areas of their life, and will seek to find meaning in their work.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.