Robert J Vallerand Laboratore de Recherche sur le Comportement Social Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice 2012, 2:1

Ronald Peters MD: Comments

Stephen Hawkings, the legendary physicist was diagnosed with a Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a severe neurodegenerative disease,  at the age of 21 years.  The average life span with this crippling disease is two to five years.  Dr. Hawkings died 55 years later at the age of 76, in large part due to his passion for life, which for him was exploring the nature of the universe.  In my decades of integrative medical practice, I have come to know that consciousness governs the body. The responsible expression of emotion, or living from the heart, and joy and passion for life are two key features of health in mind and body.


Using the Dualistic Model of Passion (DMP), the purpose of the present paper is to show the role of passion for activities in sustainable psychological well-being. Passion is defined as a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that people like (or even love), find important, and in which they invest time and energy on a regular basis. The model proposes the existence of two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive. Harmonious passion originates from an autonomous internalization of the activity into one’s identity while obsessive passion emanates from a controlled internalization and comes to control the person. Through the experience of positive emotions during activity engagement that takes place on a regular and repeated basis, it is posited that harmonious passion contributes to sustained psychological well-being while preventing the experience of negative affect, psychological conflict, and ill-being. Obsessive passion is not expected to produce such positive effects and may even facilitate negative affect, conflict with other life activities, and psychological ill-being. Research supporting the proposed effects and processes is presented and directions for future research are proposed. Psychological well-being, broadly defined as happiness, life satisfaction, and self-growth, represents one of the most important aspects of efficient psychological functioning. Indeed, much research reveals that happy people experience a number of benefits ranging from physical health to better relationships to high-level performance (e.g., Huppert 2009; Lyubomirsky et al. 2005). Often overlooked is the fact that psychological well-being is not the absence of ill-being (Diener 2000; Keyes 2007). Just as not being poor is not tantamount to being rich, not experiencing any psychological problems is not equivalent to being  psychologically flourishing (Huppert 2009; Seligman 2011). An important correlate of the above is that the determinants of psychological well-being should differ from those of ill-being (see Gable & Haidt 2005; Garland et al. 2010; Keyes 2007). For instance, the absence of psychological stressors does not ensure thriving in one’s life. It merely reduces the likelihood of suffering. In recent years, some authors (e.g., Lyubomirsky et al. 2005) have suggested that engaging in “happiness-relevant activities” (especially intentional activities) represents one way to facilitate psychological well-being. I agree with this position and further posit that having a passion for an activity represents an important type of high involvement in activities that may lead to sustainable positive effects on psychological well-being. Indeed, because people who have a passion for a given activity typically engage in this activity several hours each week, they may be experiencing positive affective experiences that should facilitate well-being. However, not all intentional activites facilitate psychological well-being. As will be described below, two types of passion exist. Although one type called harmonious passion is expected to facilitate sustainable psychological wellbeing through the repeated experience of positive emotions during task engagement, a second type of passion, called obsessive, is not expected to produce such effects and may even arouse negative emotions and interfere with leading a balanced, happy life. The purpose of this paper is to show how passion, and especially harmonious passion, plays a critical role in sustainable psychological well-being. The paper focuses exclusively on the passion-well-being relationship. The reader interested in other outcomes is referred to Vallerand (2010) for a review. In the first two sections, I present the Dualistic Model of Passion (DMP; Vallerand 2008, 2010,; Vallerand et al. 2003) and research supporting the validity of the passion concept. Then, a review is provided of the studies on the role of passion in psychological well-being, including research on the mechanisms through which passion is hypothesized to contribute to sustainable psychological well-being. Finally, I conclude with suggestions for future research.

On the Psychology of Passion

The Concept of Passion Passion has generated a lot of attention from philosophers. Their focus, however, was more on the emotional aspect of passion than on its motivational dimension as is the case with the present approach on passion. Two perspectives have emerged (see Rony 1990). The first posits that passion entails a loss of reason and control as exemplified in the writings of Plato (429-347 BC) and Spinoza (1632-1677). In line with the etymology of the word passion (from the latin “passio” for suffering) people afflicted with passion are seen as experiencing a kind of suffering, as if they were slaves to their passion, because it comes to control them. The second perspective portrays passion in a more positive light. For instance, Descartes (1596-1650) sees passions as strong emotions with inherent behavioral tendencies that can be positive as long as reason underlies the behavior. Finally, Hegel (1770-1831) argues that passions are necessary to reach the highest levels of achievement. Thus, this second view portrays passion in a more positive light as some favorable outcomes may be experienced when individuals are in control of their passion. Very little has been written on the psychology of passion for activities until recently. The few psychologists who have looked at the concept have underscored its motivational aspect. For instance, some authors have proposed that people will spend large amounts of time and effort in order to reach their passionate goals (see Frijda et al. 1991) or working on the activity that they love (Baum & Locke 2004). Nearly all empirical work on passion has been conducted in the area of close relationships under the rubric of passionate love (e.g., Hatfield & Walster 1978). Although such research is important, it does not deal with the main topic at hand, namely passion toward activities. Finally, while several theories have been proposed wherein loving an activity is hypothesized to lead to some positive benefits, no psychological theory makes the case that your love for a given activity can have either adaptive or deleterious effects on your life; that something you love can be “good” or “bad” for you (see Vallerand 2010 Vallerand Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice 2012, 2:1