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The Falsities of Passion

October 1, 2017
- Lanka Adarsh, Ekdeep Singh Lubana

While “passion” has several connotations, the one referred to herein is that which – upon discovery – becomes the eternal spring of fulfilment and its offspring, meaning.

Etymologically, the word ‘passion’ is derived from the Latin word, “pati”, which means to suffer. The irony is inescapable.

If passion were a binary entity, its existence can be proved via an elaborate argument involving biology: our DNA is a specific, unique combination of four proteins (Adenine, Guanine, Thymine and Cytosine). An individual’s DNA is a code written in these four variables. We are the program that it produces, by virtue of the nature and sequence of linkages constituting it. Although not provable conclusively, it isn’t irrational to assume that every part of us – in some proportion – involves our genes; the same can be extended to one’s passion(s). There ought to be certain activities that give us the requisite pleasure as we perform them.

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To argue for the non-existence of passion, one may bring to the fore the prevalence of innumerable potential activities. Discovery of a singular activity may consume the better part of our lives, perhaps even elude us till death. What, then, is the point of such an activity? It is in the best interest of our happiness to make do with what we have and not wander wildly, searching for what we do not possess.

The non-existence of passion also has a great deal to do with what it has come to mean: an activity that consumes us constantly, prompting an unwavering devotion and culminating in happiness. As Mark Manson argues in “Screw Finding Your Passion”, every undertaking seems unappealing some of the time. The error in judgement occurs when we are in the process of acquainting ourselves. New interests excite us because we tend to get better at them with great pace. However, once saturation is reached and getting better by the same amount requires that much more effort, frustration sets in and the activity begins to seem unappealing. Since it does not align with the contemporary idea of passion, the individual abandons the present activity, thus resuming his search for the mythical entity.

According to the Dualistic Model of Passion, there exist two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive. Harmonious passion includes all such activities that individuals derive pleasure from and, over time, become associated with their identity. However, free will – in choosing the activity, performing it, and disengaging when necessary – is an important underpinning. This contrasts with Obsessive Passion, where individuals perform tasks primarily to avoid punishment and/or guilt; there prevails a strong inner compulsion to finish the task at hand, while not deriving any pleasure from the activity itself. Incomplete work corresponds to a decrease in self-worth.

The prevalent idea of passion borrows from both types: that an activity should be pleasurable and an important part of our identity come from the harmonious variant, while the incessant occupation and the compulsion to do it are traits derived from the obsessive variant. To tend toward harmonious passion, it is essential that one possess the ability to disengage whenever required, upon his/her free will. Harmonious passion has several correlations: positive with feeling immersed in their activity (flow), well being or positive emotions, creativity and pursuit of other activities; negative with neglect of alternate goals.

It becomes clear, therefore, that one cannot be productively obsessed. Being truly productive and fulfilled demands that the individual do such an activity out of free will, not internal compulsion. This is likely to seem counterintuitive in light of the false ideal we have been fed and have come to uphold. A revaluation of ourselves and the beliefs that mould our identity is key to our growth. Now is as good a time as any.

Illustration Credits: Eelco Veil/Bill Kenney