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5 things you didn't know about passion


Having a passion for something or someone is a good thing right? It certainly came up as a key factor in the ability to flourish at work, and my goodness have we seen a lot of it in the recent Olympics and Paralympics. And what's more we were lucky enough to have ringside seats based, as we are, here in East London.

It might be a little more complicated than 'always a good thing'. Psychologist and passion researcher Bob Vallerand's keynote at the Canadian Conference of Positive Psychology dug deeper into the field. He defines passion as "A strong inclination towards a self-defining activity (or object) that we; love, value and invest time and energy in" (Vallerand, 2010). He shared a few things that might surprise you about passion.

1. Passion isn't always a good thing. Research shows there's a difference between harmonious passion and obsessive passion. Harmonious passion is integrated into a person's life and their choice about engagement with it is maintained. Obsessive passion on the other hand causes conflict with other important activities or relationships.

2. Having a passion for something (harmoniously) correlates strongly with flow experiences, positive emotions and concentration levels. Obsessive passion can cause negative emotions – if you don't engage in it you think about it constantly (rumination).

3. Harmonious passion links with positive aging. Older people with a passion they could regularly (and harmoniously) engage in had higher life satisfaction and lower anxiety (Rossseau and Vallerand, 2003).

4. Passion for something = passion for relationships. Research showed harmonious passion levels linked with more positive relationships at work and within couples. Obsessive passion on the other hand caused relationship conflict and lower relationship satisfaction. If you've been on the receiving end of this you'll know exactly what I mean! (Vallerand, Ntoumanis et al, 2008).

5. Passion has a variety of 'social determinants' including autonomy, transformational leadership and use of strengths (Forest et al, in press). A good reason to work on giving yourself an engagement boost or exploring your strengths then.

What wasn't clear from his talk was how you go about moving from a damaging, obsessive passion to a beneficial, harmonious passion. How much control do you have over this? I've emailed Bob Vallerand about this and will post any reply I get on here.

For now though, ask yourself what are you passionate about at work? The good news from our flourishing research is that you don't need to be saving lives or the world to have a passion for what you do. You might love communication, helping clients, tax or creating new things. Think about what you love, value and will willingly invest time and energy in. Just be careful that it remains harmonious with your life overall...

Tell us about your experience.

And if you're a manager looking to make sure your team flourishes (perhaps more commonly known as employee engagement), check out our 'Engaging your team' session. We've designed it specifically for team leaders and managers.

Employee engagement


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