A passionate way of being: A qualitative study revealing the passion spiral

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Abstract
Being engaged in an activity one is passionate about has been tied to feeling life is worth living for. Existing research in passion has explored this phenomenon purely using quantitative research methodology, and by tying an individual’s passion to a specific activity. In this study, passion was explored in semi-structured interviews with 12 participants. The qualitative grounded theory analysis revealed a passionate way of being, with passion being located in the individual rather than in a specific activity. A new phenomenon to positive psychology, a passionate way of being is about having a purpose, creating positive impact, and pursuing variety. These key elements, amongst others, created a reinforcing, self-sustaining spiral, which offered a route to hedonic and eudaimonic happiness, generally serving to enhance life (though it could also detract from life if it became overpowering).

Una forma de ser pasional. Un estudio cualitativo que revela la espiral de la pasión

Abstract

Estar involucrado en una actividad que resulta apasionante ha estado ligado a la sensación de que la vida vale la pena. Las investigaciones existentes acerca de la pasión han explorado este fenómeno usando solamente metodologías de la investigación cuantitativa. En este estudio, la pasión fue explorada en entrevistas semi-estructuradas con 12 participantes. El muestreo teórico cuantitativo reveló una forma de ser pasional en la que la pasión estaba localizada más en el individuo que en la actividad específica. Un nuevo fenómeno para la sicología positiva, una forma pasional del ser, consiste en tener un propósito, creando un impacto positivo y buscando variedad. Estos elementos clave, entre otros, crearon un fortalecimiento en forma de espiral auto-producente que permite una ruta hacia la felicidad hedónica y eudaimónica, la cual es generalmente útil para mejorar la calidad de vida (aunque también podría disminuirla si se intensifica demasiado).

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INT.J.PSYCHOL.RES. 2014; 7 (2): XX-XX
*Corresponding author: Susanna M. Halonen, School of Psychology, The University of East London, Stratford Campus, Water Lane,
London, E15 4LZ. Mobile +44 7564 397437. Email address: susanna@happyologist.co.uk
ISSN printed 2011-2084
ISSN electronic 2011-2079
12
R e s e a r c h
Susanna M. Halonen a, *, and Tim Lomas a,
a School of Psychology, University of East London, London, United Kingdom.
ARTICLE INFO
Article history:
Received: 08-05-2014
Revised: 20-06-2014
Accepted: 05-07-2014
Key words:
Passion, passionate,
way of being,
happiness, qualitative
research, grounded
theory.
ABSTRACT
Being engaged in an activity one is passionate about has been tied to feeling
life is worth living for. Existing research in passion has explored this phenomenon
purely using quantitative research methodology, and by tying an individual’s passion
to a specific activity. In this study, passion was explored in semi-structured interviews
with 12 participants. The qualitative grounded theory analysis revealed a passionate
way of being, with passion being located in the individual rather than in a specific
activity. A new phenomenon to positive psychology, a passionate way of being is
about having a purpose, creating positive impact, and pursuing variety. These key
elements, amongst others, created a reinforcing, self-sustaining spiral, which offered a
route to hedonic and eudaimonic happiness, generally serving to enhance life (though
it could also detract from life if it became overpowering).
RESUMEN
Estar involucrado en una actividad que resulta apasionante ha estado ligado
a la sensación de que la vida vale la pena. Las investigaciones existentes acerca de
la pasión han explorado este fenómeno usando solamente metodologías de la
investigación cuantitativa. En este estudio, la pasión fue explorada en entrevistas
semi-estructuradas con 12 participantes. El muestreo teórico cuantitativo reveló una
forma de ser pasional en la que la pasión estaba localizada más en el individuo que
en la actividad específica. Un nuevo fenómeno para la sicología positiva, una forma
pasional del ser, consiste en tener un propósito, creando un impacto positivo y
buscando variedad. Estos elementos clave, entre otros, crearon un fortalecimiento en
forma de espiral auto-producente que permite una ruta hacia la felicidad hedónica y
eudaimónica, la cual es generalmente útil para mejorar la calidad de vida (aunque
también podría disminuirla si se intensifica demasiado).
Palabras clave: Pasión,
pasional, forma del
ser, felicidad,
investigación
cualitativa, muestro
teórico.
A passionate way of being: A
qualitative study revealing the
passion spiral
Una forma de ser pasional. Un estudio
cualitativo que revela la espiral de la pasión
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A qualitative study on passion
Halonen and Lomas (2014)
int.j.psychol.res. 7 (2)
PP. xx - xx
13
The novel field of positive psychology explores
how individuals, organisations and communities thrive
(Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). A component of
individual thriving is feeling life is worth living for
(Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Vallerand and
Verner-Filion (2013) suggest being engaged in an
activity one is passionate about makes life worth
living. Vallerand et al. (2003) define passion as a
strong desire towards a self-defining activity one
loves, invests energy in, and finds important
(Vallerand et al., 2003). The existing research on
passion has measured passion together with person-
environment fit model (Amiot, Vallerand & Blanchard,
2006), adaptation behaviour (Mageau et al., 2009),
performance (Vallerand et al., 2007), flow (Carpentier,
Mageau & Vallerand, 2012), strengths (Forest et al.,
2012), self-esteem (Lafreniere, Bélanger, Sedikides &
Vallerand, 2011) and wellbeing (Bonneville- Roussy et
al., 2011; Philippe et al., 2009; Rousseau & Vallerand,
2008). These quantitative studies have tested and
often supported Vallerand et al.’s (2003) Dualistic
Model of Passion, presenting harmonious and
obsessive passion, and its accompanying Passion
Scale. However, these quantitative studies have not
substantially explored what the manifestation of
passion in one’s life actually looks like, from how it is
experienced to what it means to the individual to what
the individual’s motivational drivers behind passion
are. They have also limited the study of passion’s
positive effects to subjective wellbeing, positive affect,
and meaning in life (Bonneville-Roussy, Lavigne &
Vallerand, 2011; Rousseau & Vallerand, 2008),
without giving the study participants any room to
elaborate on what is it about the experience of passion
or having a passion that is accompanied by these
positive effects. It can be argued these unanswered
questions are the result of using purely quantitative
research to explore passion, as confirmed by
Vallerand, the founding father of passion research,
who said he had “not seen any passion research using
a qualitative approach (R.J. Vallerand, personal
communication, February 13, 2013). As pointed out by
Henwood and Pidgeon (1992), qualitative research is
more exploratory and open to new insights than
quantitative research. Based on these points, this
study’s objective was to redress these questions, and
fill the black hole on what the experience of passion is
all about. The findings of this qualitative research
piece makes this study the first to view passion as a
way of being (inherent in the person), rather than
enthusiasm for a particular activity.
Philosophers have appraised passion in both
a negative and positive light for thousands of years.
Plato (429-347 BC), and later Spinoza (1632-1677),
argued that passion led to animal like behaviour and
unacceptable thoughts, with individuals as slaves to
their passion (Rony, 1990). Conversely, Aristotle
presented passion as a reflection of eudaimonia,
personal expressiveness through one’s true self which
empowers one’s highest potential and fulfilment
(Waterman, 1993). The idea of eudaimonia has been
embraced in positive psychology as ‘eudaimonic
wellbeing’ (Ryan and Deci, 2001). Contemporary
research (e.g. Vallerand, 2008; Vallerand et al., 2003)
suggests that passion can contribute to the fulfilment
of potential that is encompassed within eudaimonic
wellbeing, but does not explain how this contribution
happens. The findings of this study shine light on how
the participants felt connected to their fulfilment of
potential through pursuing the passionate way of
being. Since both negative and positive appraisals of
passion exist in philosophy, it is fitting the Dualistic
Model of Passion also presents two perspectives
(Vallerand et al., 2003).
Vallerand et al.’s (2003) Dualistic Model
identifies two types of passion: harmonious and
obsessive. Harmonious passion is driven by
autonomous internalisation of the activity, i.e., the
choice to pursue the activity for the sake of enjoyment,
and results in flexible persistence. Conversely,
obsessive passion is driven by controlled
internalisation of the activity, i.e., compelled by internal
(e.g. uncontrollable excitement) or external pressures
(e.g. peer acceptance) to undertake the activity, and
results in inflexible persistence (Bonneville-Roussy et
al., 2011; Vallerand et al., 2003). The model outlines
two types of passion, but does not outline whether it is
possible to be ‘multi-passionate’, and experience
passion towards many different activities. Mageau et
al. (2009) and Schlenker (1985) dispute that as
passion becomes a central feature of one’s identity,
people don’t merely dance, paint or swim; they are
dancers, patines and swimmers. Where does this
leave people who love to dance, play with dogs, read
books and cook? Are they a dancer, dog-lover, reader
and chef? This is an area which no existing research
has touched on, and this study provides an answer to
this by viewing passion as way of being, suggesting
that certain individuals live their whole lives with
passion rather than tying it to an activity they feel
enthusiasm towards.
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Halonen and Lomas (2014)
int.j.psychol.res. 7 (2)
PP. xx - xx
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The model also fails to acknowledge how
tendencies towards these two different types of
passion might develop. However, one recent study
has examined this enthusiasm towards an activity
from a developmental perspective, albeit with
quantitative analyses. Mageau et al. (2009) explored a
passion’s development through three studies using
correlational and short-term longitudinal designs. The
first involved 229 adults committed full-time to their
passionate activity. The second included 163 children
who had engaged in deliberate practice of a specific
activity for a few months. The third consisted of 196
high-school students who had just started an activity.
The three studies indicated passion’s development
was encouraged by: activity mastery, parental
approval of activity, autonomy support, and
identification with the activity. Although the
correlational nature of the study prevents clear
answers on causality, the findings are an informative
first step in suggesting the developmental role of both
internal (e.g. identification with activity) and external
factors (e.g. parent’s approval). Arguably, qualitative
research is needed to explore these factors further,
which is what the current study has done by identifying
two motivational drivers and two developmental
factors of the passionate way of being.
In addition to some examinations of the
development of passion, scholars have explored the
outcomes of passion. Philippe, Vallerand, and Lavigne
(2009) discovered that people assessed as being
harmoniously passionate scored significantly higher in
both hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing than
obsessively passionate and non-passionate people.
These findings indicated that harmonious passion
contributes to happiness and pleasure (i.e. hedonic
wellbeing), as well as meaning in life and self-
realisation (i.e. eudaimonic wellbeing) (Ryan & Deci,
2001; Vallerand, 2008). Similarly, Bonneville-Roussy
et al. (2011) found that harmonious passion predicted
higher hedonic wellbeing. As these studies were also
quantitative, qualitative research is needed to explore
these outcomes in more depth to discover how the
experience of passion contributes to both hedonic and
eudaimonic wellbeing. Thus, employing qualitative
methods, the current study is able to provide a richer
understanding of the origins and outcomes of passion
in people’s lives. Expert speakers were identified as a
suitable population as these speakers had spoken at a
conference on a theme they were passionate about.
The research question was: What role does passion
play in expert speakers’ lives? Due to the qualitative
nature of the study, and the use of grounded theory
methodology, no hypothesis to the study was
assigned in order to minimise researcher and
participants bias.
2.1. Design
Twelve participants were individually
interviewed, using semi-structured interviews, to
examine the role that passion played in expert
speakers’ lives. Grounded theory (GT) methodology
was used for data analysis. Glaser and Strauss (1967)
define GT as collecting, integrating, analysing and
conceptualising qualitative data to create a theory.
More specifically, the analysis used Charmaz’s (2007)
social constructivist approach to GT (in which the
findings are viewed as the result of the interaction
between the participants and the researcher). The
researcher took a critical relativist epistemological
framework, understanding the participant and
researcher may influence each other throughout data
collection (Anderson, 1986).
2.2. Participants
Twelve participants were recruited by email
from two locally organised conferences convened as
franchise of the umbrella organisation, © TED
conferences (with the motto ‘Ideas worth spreading’)
(TED, 2013). The sample was homogenous in that the
speakers gave a presentation on a topic that they
were passionate about at one of these conferences,
and in that most of the speaker’s work was related to
this topic. The sample was demographically
heterogeneous, with both men (8) and women (4), and
ages ranging from 33 to 50+ (with an average of 41.5)
(Table 1). Their careers varied, including a consultant,
comedian, energy researcher, musician, teacher and
magician among others.
2.3. Interview procedure
The data was collected through semi-
structured interviews, conducted in conversational
style. An interview schedule, involving 10 questions
(Table 2), was constructed based on existing research
and gaps in current understanding around passion.
Interviews lasted between 25 to 65 minutes, and were
recorded with the participant’s consent. The voluntary
nature of their participation and their right of
withdrawal was highlighted in the invitation sheet,
verbally before the interview, in the consent form, and
after the interview (during a verbal debriefing). To aid
subsequent analysis, after each interview the
researcher completed a reflexive memo, detailing how
the interview went and any impactful memories
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concerning the participant’s body language,
behaviour, or comments.
Table 1. Participant demographics.
Age
Gender
Level of Education
37
F
Doctorate
50+
M
Master’s
34
F
Bachelor’s
36
M
High School
50
M
Master’s
44
M
Master’s
33
M
Master’s
48
M
Bachelor’s
48
F
Post Graduate
Certificate
37
M
Doctorate
45
M
Bachelor’s
36
F
Master’s
Table 2. Interview schedule
1
Tell me about your passion. When did you first feel
passionate about this?
2
Tell me about how your passion developed? What
were some factors that encouraged or hindered it?
3
Tell me about the greatest experience you’ve had in
relation to this passion.
4
What role, if any, does passion play in your work life?
5
Does your passion define who you are or is it what you
do?
6
Have you changed about the way you feel about your
passion over the years?
7
Do you have other passions and if yes, how do they
co-exist in your life?
8
Have you ever suffered for your passion or has it ever
created conflict?
9
Does your passion make you happy?
10
Where do you think you will take it next?
2.4. Analysis
The audio recordings of the interviews were
transcribed, and details likely to lead to participant
identification were redacted. The analysis followed GT
principles, with analysis starting as interviews were
still being conducted, and going deeper after all
interviews had been completed (Glaser & Strauss,
1967). Throughout the study, the researcher wrote
reflexive memos, acknowledging her cognitive
processes may have influenced the data analysis
(Anderson, 1986; Rennie, 2012). The analysis on
each transcript started with explorative line-by-line
coding, in which descriptive labels were created,
interpreting each line of data. Focused coding
followed, identifying higher order codes for larger text
portions and categorising them. The third step
involved comparative analysis between the codes and
categories to identify prominent themes and sub-
themes. Approximately four to eight themes, and five
to ten sub-themes, were identified in each transcript.
The comparative analysis of all themes and sub-
themes across all transcripts resulted in the
identification of one core underlying theme, a
passionate way of being, and a representative model
for the whole sample (Figure 1 in the discussion).
Monthly meetings with the research colleague ensured
the emerging analysis was continually and
consistently reviewed. Although saturation appeared
to have been reached after nine interviews, the three
remaining interviews that had been scheduled were
conducted to ensure saturation. Twelve interviews
ensured the data was sufficient to cover the topic of
passion in depth, and to ensure that individual
variation was reflected in the emergent analysis (Mills
et al., 2006).
The analysis produced one core theme: a
passionate way of being, construed as passion being
located in the individual, rather than in an activity they
pursue. The participants spoke about directing their
passion towards many things in life, and not to a
specific activity. For example, Jane described the
passionate way of being as inseparable from her, a
motif which runs throughout her life: Passion feels like
it ought to be something that runs through you, and
through your life, and it’s integral to your identity”.
Under the core theme were six themes with
their unique sub-themes (Table 3). The themes will be
discussed in turn, with exemplary quotes from
participants (using participant pseudonyms). Although
quantification of qualitative data is a contentious issue,
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theme prevalence is presented (Table 3) on the basis
that it provides a useful overview of the analysis and a
fair representation of the themes (Pope, Ziebland &
Mayas, 2000).
Table 3. A passionate way of being themes and sub-
themes.
Theme
Sub-themes
A passionate
way of being
Having purpose (9)
Being authentic (11)
Motivational drivers
Have a positive impact (12)
Learn and grow (10)
Developmental factors
A sense of value and being valued
(6)
Having a sense of belonging (7)
Manifestations in life
Pursuing variety (8)
Believing in one’s skills (8)
Passion enhancing life
Subjective wellbeing (10)
Feeling energised (9)
A sense of freedom (9)
Passion detracting from
life
Losing control (3)
Obsessing over goals (6)
Wanting to escape (8)
3.1. A passionate way of being
Two components of a passionate way of being
were identified: having purpose and being authentic.
3.1.1. Having purpose: Participants reported
that having passion was fundamentally a matter of
experiencing a sense of purpose in life, and having the
drive to pursue this purpose. Participants had a clear
sense of direction, giving them perspective about the
relative importance of the various elements of their
lives, helping them focus. As Tony explained: “When
you're so clear about what's important to you and
you've got that passion to drive you, then you don't get
worried about little things”. Moreover, following a
purpose empowered participants to take an active
sense of responsibility for shaping their lives, as Jane
expressed: “What I get from passions… is you get a
reason to make the journey, and you actually bother to
take the journey... You’re actually bothered to shape
your journey”. When the respondents understood their
why, they were motivated to proactively take control of
their lives. Having purpose was closely linked to
another existential theme in the interviews: being
authentic. These two interlinked factors reinforced
each other as the central components of the
passionate way of being.
3.1.2. Being authentic: The participants
described pursuing their passion using the language
of authenticity, in terms of being true to yourself
(Sarah) and being “right at the heart of your core
(Tony). They saw their passion as central to who they
were, as identity-defining. Thus, passion was depicted
as a way of being. This depiction is fundamental to the
data: rather than passion simply reflecting a positive
appraisal of a particular activity, passion was
construed as a quality of the self. More specifically,
passion was portrayed as being a manifestation of
living authentically, in accordance with one’s values
and beliefs. This passion was central to their
existence. As Dan recalled: “I feel that when I am
connected to myself, and I'm expressing myself fully,
then I live my passion. When he was able to behave
in a way that was true to him, he felt most connected
to this passionate way of being.
3.2. Motivational drivers
The analysis showed the two main drivers of a
passionate way of being were the desire to have a
positive impact, and the drive to learn and grow.
3.2.1. Have a positive impact: In quantitative
terms, the desire to have positive impact had the
highest prevalence of the themes, being endorsed by
all participants. Participants expressed this desire in
many ways, including helping other people, ‘making a
difference’, and inspiring people. Tony spoke about
admiring others who were contributing to the world”,
and the way they had a drive forward”; meaningfully,
he now felt he had that drive, as he had found his way
to contribute. Having a clear idea of how to contribute
was closely related to the sense of having articulated
one’s purpose. Albert spoke about enabling people to
realize their potential: It's about empowering people
to do something that they couldn't do before”. Fred, a
comedian, wanted to create positive emotions: I
create happiness, I create laughter”. The participants
said it was “rewarding” (Bob) and “beautiful” (Dan)
when they saw their work having an impact, and it
fuelled their desire to do more.
3.2.2. Learn and grow: Phrases participants
used to discuss learning and growth were “developing
and growing” (Jane), “reading and learning” (Bob), and
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exploring(Mark). This desire to learn created a self-
reinforcing learning cycle, as Mark explained: The
more you discover, the more excited you become
about it, the kind of the more things you realise that is
possible, and ... the more you want to explore”.
Learning generated an opportunistic mindset enabling
participants to spot opportunities and take up
challenges to grow. This desire for ongoing
development accompanied aspirations towards
mastery. George emphasized “you can get betterand
be the best version of you that you can be”. These
reflect the desire for optimal functioning. Looking at
the broader picture, we can discern interrelations
between the main analytic themes: participants
wanted to learn to perform at their best; performing at
their best helped fulfil their authentic sense of
purpose; this purpose was rewarded by the feeling
they were having a positive impact. Together, these
elements combine to form a passionate way of being.
3.3. Developmental factors
The key factors driving the development of a
passionate way of being were feeling a sense of value
and being valued, and having a sense of belonging.
3.3.1. A sense of value and being valued:
One element encouraging the development of the
passionate way of being was having a sense of value
both through valuing one’s own actions (intrinsic
satisfaction), and being valued by others for one’s
actions (recognition). Intrinsic satisfaction came from
feeling what one was doing was valuable, as Bob
expressed: “It's that it always feels like I'm doing
something worthwhile”. Having a sense of value was
tied to participants believing in what they were doing,
which again connects to following a purpose, being
authentic and having a positive impact. Similarly, Anna
recalls a weekly class she runs: “I just feel like I'm kind
of a channel for some sort of unlocking”. Anna
believed she were a kind of medium, helping others to
release their potential. Thus the sense of valuing one’s
actions was often linked to the sense one was valued
by others for these actions.
3.3.2. Having a sense of belonging: Another
factor encouraging the pursuit of passion was
participants feeling a sense of belonging from being
around likeminded individuals. Tony reminisced about
how he felt in his Masters course: That's quite
powerful to be around … 60 people ... who are all
thinking the same things”. Lisa explained how
meeting these other inspirational women at a
personal development training group gave her the
confidence to follow her sense of purpose. Some
participants also created a sense of belonging for
others. Dan, who runs retreats where people come for
personal change, explained: “There's something about
the retreat that brings people together. And... hearts
open up. And people ... share, and they open up, in
ways that they can't, or they won't, in their everyday
lives”. Dan implied something unique happens when
people come together for similar objectives, and that
this togetherness helps people reveal their true selves.
Being a part of this change process, and creating the
environment for it, helped fuel Dan’s sense of
belonging.
3.4. Manifestations in life
The passionate way of being manifested itself
in the participants’ lives in the form of the pursuit of
variety, and in participants believing in their skills.
3.4.1. Pursuing variety: Most participants
reported pursuing variety in their lives, from daily
activities to long-term pursuits. They spoke about
having a key purpose, such as creativity and
technology” (Mark), and pursuing variety around it.
Dan described his purpose as the prominent
motivators”, and the passion that drives” him and that
is in charge of making choices”. However, around this
key purpose, participants enjoyed embracing the
variety of potential outlets for this purpose. For
instance, John spoke of enjoying “working with groups
of people” in workshops, but appreciated being able to
offer various workshop topics. This variety helped to
keep the passionate way of being dynamic and
continuously evolving, as Jane highlighted: It’s an
extension of existing driving passions, but it’s also
uncovering and creating new passions”. This “creating
new passions”, driven by the desire to learn and grow,
is one of the drivers of a passionate way of being.
3.4.2. Believing in one’s skills: A second
key manifestation of the passionate way of being was
self-belief in one’s skills. Participants had a sense of
their own talents, including innate qualities and
capacities they had developed over time. This self-
belief meant participants had the confidence to follow
their purpose and make a positive impact, as Lisa
explained: “What I do know about is education. So... It
meant that I could find a way to help that I was good
at”. Indeed, this self-belief had the potential to cause
frustration among participants if they felt their skills
were not being utilised. For example, Sarah recalled
being in a profession which she felt did not fully utilise
her potential: “If you’re not in alignment with what
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you’re there to do or how the skills you’ve been given
can be put to best use, you’re going to experience
conflict”. Here, Sarah was distressed and struggled to
perform; this reinforced the importance of being able
to do what she does best.
3.5. Passion enhancing life
Participants indicated that pursuing a
passionate way of being enhanced life by leading to
subjective wellbeing, feeling energised and a sense of
freedom.
3.5.1. Subjective wellbeing: Participants
linked their passion to experiences of subjective
wellbeing by talking about happiness, positive
emotions, and being satisfied with their lives. John
spoke about a very fulfilling and engaging lifedriven
by I do things I enjoy doing”. Tony mentioned
attaining “fulfilmentand a “sense of experience” in life
from pursuing this passionate way of being. Lisa
highlighted how her purpose helped her focus, leading
to positive emotions: I always have my next mission
... And I think it gives me, and that's because it's
driven by passions... So that definitely gives you a
kind of happiness”. Understanding what she was
working towards gave her a sense of structure, which
brought her a kind of happiness”. Other positive
elements, emphasised by Anna, included being able
to “connect with people” and feel “joy”. In addition,
connecting back to earlier themes, experiencing a
sense of belonging through following her passion also
contributed to her wellbeing.
3.5.2. Feeling energized: Participants
described how pursuing their passion was energizing,
a source of “refuel (Sarah), “making me excited
(Tony) and generating “buzzing vitality” (Dan). Dan
implied this buzzing vitality meant the passionate
way of being was something that sustains itself
(Dan). John explained his energy came from being
“very engaged and absorbed”: doing things aligned
with his true self allowed him to get fully immersed in
them and to enjoy them. Moreover, Fred’s childlike
energy had expansive positive effects, such as
becoming “immersed in curiosity and inspiration and
wonder”. Here passion was a route to experiencing
the world with greater vitality and awe. Finally, linking
back to the earlier theme of ‘making a difference,’
some participants suggested that spreading their
passionate way of being to others also energised
them, as Mark illustrated: The most exciting is when
when I talk to people, and then they also, they also get
passionate about it”.
3.5.3. Sense of freedom: Participants
revealed their pursuit of passion was imbued with a
sense of freedom, which arose from feeling choice
and not feeling boxed in. This meant people’s passion
was not just limited to one activity, but could be
generalised to other aspects of life. Dan expressed
this clearly: “Really anything is possible. In ... many
ways that's ... why I love my passion so much,
because I feel that it's so flexible, and it's so open”. He
felt his passion opened up opportunities and conveyed
the expansive feeling he was able to direct his passion
in many ways, towards many activities. Sarah linked
freedom to authenticity, saying she felt free when she
was being authentic and pursuing the things important
to her: I come face to face with my value. I’m free”.
Thus, alignment with one’s true self, was one of the
elements that engendered a sense of freedom for
respondents.
3.6. How a passionate way of being detracts from
life
Although the passionate way of being was
largely constructed in positive terms, the passion
could have unforeseen negative outcomes. Pursuing
one’s passion could detract from life if it came to
dominate one’s life, leading to losing control,
obsessing over goals and wanting to escape.
3.6.1. Losing control: Three participants
spoke about the challenges they experienced when
their passionate way of being became an
overpowering presence in their lives. Fred expressed
he was in this negative space: I'm not empowered
enough in my life at the moment to umm... Feel like
I'm in control”. Fully immersing himself in this way of
being made him feel lost and trapped, and he was
unsure how to get out. Conversely, others felt
distressed when they did not have sufficient control in
their life to pursue their purpose fully, a point made by
Sarah above (see ‘believing in one’s skills’ theme).
George revealed he had felt hewasn’t fulfilling what I
believe was my potential when he was doing an
activity he loved, as he felt the structure he had put in
place was not flexible enough. He had felt “stuck”,
indicating losing control and sense of freedom.
3.6.2. Obsessing over goals: As outlined
above, the passionate way of being involved following
a purpose and having a positive impact. However, if
these and their accompanying elements became
overpowering, they could lead to goal obsession.
George was vocal about this negative aspect: To feel
passionate about something, it's kind of verging on
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being uncomfortable about something, about being
so... Verging on obsession, isn't it, it's verging on...
Wanting something so much that it does hurt”. That
said, some participants found strategies to overcome
this. Lisa described learning to stop being so goal-
oriented with her passion, and appreciating it for its
own sake, led her to enjoy it in a life enhancing way:
I'm understanding more that you can just do the
things you enjoy and the things you love, and stop
running”.
3.6.3. Wanting to escape: For some
participants, immersion in their passion was so all-
consuming they felt the urge to escape. Fred
experienced burnout from over-involvement in his
passion for comedy, and did in fact escape: I was so
disillusioned and hurt… that I took an entire year off”.
After a year, he found himself falling back in love with
comedy, understanding “it is the reality of who I am”.
Other participants reported the urge to escape from
attendant feelings that sometimes accompanied their
passion. For example, Albert spoke of how being
authentic in his passionate way of being rendered him
vulnerable to others’ judgments: When I've explored
my passions, and talked about them openly... It... lays
you vulnerable to other people's prejudices and
assumptions”. Exposing his authentic self made him
feel uneasy about the beliefs people held about
individuals like him who had the freedom and courage
to shape their lives as they wanted. These external
forces, others’ assumptions, sometimes made him
wary about pursuing his passionate way of being.
This study has deepened our understanding of
passion by showing this to be a way of being, rather
than a positive attitude towards a particular activity.
Moreover, people who flourish in life as a result of
finding their passion may enter a self-sustaining
‘passion spiral’, a new theoretical model developed by
the present study (Figure 1). This study helps
augment the current understanding of passion by
showing how it can go beyond enthusiasm towards an
activity to an actual way of life. It also provides fertile
ground for future research which could further explore
passion as a way of being. The four themes in this
new model explain what the passionate way of being
is, what it is driven by, how it develops and how if
manifests itself in people’s lives. Their sub-themes
included following a purpose and being authentic;
having a positive impact and learning and growing;
feeling valued and having a sense of belonging; and
pursuing variety and believing in one’s skills. These
components resulted in a ‘passion spiral’ that feeds
itself, as the different components continuously
reinforce each other in this cyclical process. A further
two themes (right in Figure 1) demonstrated how the
spiral enhanced or detracted from life. The spiral led to
individuals feeling subjective wellbeing, energised and
a sense of freedom. Even though relatively rare
(quantitatively speaking), when the spiral became
overpowering it resulted in a ‘negative spiral’ leading
to losing control, obsessing over goals and wanting to
escape. Some elements of the passionate way of
being can add to our understanding of existing
theories, such as Waterman’s (1993) personal
expressiveness, Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) autotelic
personality, and Vallerand et al.’s (2003) Dualistic
Model of Passion.
4.1. Passionate way of being spiral
What is unique about this model is the idea
that passion is a way of being, or a quality, that the
individual holds, rather than passion being a strong
desire towards a specific activity (as suggested by
Vallerand et al., 2003). The two key components of
this way of being, following a purpose and being
authentic, relate to Waterman’s (1990) theory of
personal expressiveness, which was influenced by
Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia. Personally
expressive activities are closely tied in with
authenticity: individuals believe such activities are
reflective of who they are and what they are meant to
do (Waterman, 1990; Deci & Ryan, 2000). This
description is consonant with the analysis in the
current study of a passionate way of being; however,
Waterman’s model limits these feelings to a specific
activity. In contrast, the passion model here suggests
that passion runs throughout life, across different
activities.
Compton et al. (1996) identified the key
components of meaning as purpose, connectedness
and growth. These components feature within the
passion spiral in different ways. A sense of purpose is
one of the two key elements of the passionate way of
being (alongside authenticity); desire for learning and
growth help drive the pursuit of the way of being; and
a sense of belonging (i.e. connectedness) is a factor
that helps it develop. This analysis ties the passionate
way of being to Compton et al.’s (1996) definition of
meaning. In addition, the model in the current study
suggests that following one’s purpose is often linked to
the desire to have a positive impact, and that impacts
positively on an individual’s life. This introduces the
idea that following a purpose and consciously creating
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positive impact lights up the positive passion energy
within you.
The passion spiral also links conceptually to
Deci and Ryan’s (2000) Self-Determination Theory.
The central components of this theory, relatedness,
autonomy and competence, can be linked to elements
in the passion spiral. Relatedness was an aspect of
the spiral, since connectedness, i.e., a sense of
belonging, was a key developmental factor in
encouraging pursuit of the passionate way of being.
Likewise, autonomy, referred to as making decisions
consistent with the integral self, has parallels with
authenticity (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Finally, competence
is relevant to both the desire to learn as well as the
belief in one’s skills. With these similarities with the
self-determination theory, the passion spiral suggests
that this way of being allows one to enjoy self-
determination, as well as other positive wellbeing
outcomes, throughout their life rather than through
merely one activity an individual feels enthusiasm
towards.
Components of the passion spiral can also be
linked to other prominent theories within positive
psychology. This desire to learn can be tied to
Dweck’s (2006) mindset model, which refers to a
malleable individual open to learning and challenges.
Such openness to learning is clearly present in the
model as the passionate way of being is driven by the
desire to learn and grow. Similarly, this desire for self-
expansion has parallels with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990)
autotelic personality, which refers to people who
generally do things for their own sake in the ‘here and
now’, and who actively seek skill development.
Establishing such links between the passion spiral and
existing theories shows how the spiral fits within the
context of existing understanding within positive
psychology. Next we must consider how the spiral can
either enhance or detract from life.
Figure 1. Components of the passion spiral.
Note. Components of the passion spiral were determined through grounded theory analysis, and classified into themes and sub-
themes in the passion spiral that feeds itself.
4.2. Passionate way of being and happiness
As with the philosophers’ debate around the
merits of passion noted above, and as per Vallerand’s
Dualistic Model of Passion (Vallerand et al., 2003), the
passion spiral has both a bright and a dark side. The
‘bright side’ of the spiral i.e., when it enhances life,
producing wellbeing can be linked to Vallerand et
al’s (2003) harmonious passion, which similarly has
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been shown to correlate with subjective wellbeing
(Bonneville-Roussy et al., 2011; Philippe et al., 2009;
Rousseau & Vallerand, 2008; Vallerand, 2008).
Participants in the present study spoke of
experiencing positive emotions (e.g. joy), fulfilment
and “happiness”, which aligns with what Philippe et al.
(2009) found when researching harmoniously
passionate people. On an eudaimonic level, following
a purpose and the desire to have a positive impact,
both of which are present in the passion spiral, are
components of a meaningful life (Hefferon & Boniwell,
2011). This analysis and these ties to existing theories
indicate that a passionate way of being encourages
both hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing.
However, the current study went a step further
in highlighting two additional ways in which the spiral
can enhance life: feeling energised; and a sense of
freedom. Whereas Vallerand et al. (2003) spoke about
investing energy into a passionate activity, here the
passion spiral was reported as creating a feeling of
energy, which could be tied to subjective vitality. Ryan
and Frederick (1997) define subjective vitality as
one’s conscious experience of possessing energy
and aliveness” (p.530), and “having positive energy
available to or within the regulatory control of one’s
self” (p.530). This vitality is also linked to the reported
sense of freedom, as the sense of energy is
manifested in the feeling that one is in control of the
self and can choose to use it in any preferred way.
This creation of energy also supports the self-
reinforcing nature of spiral, representing the internal
‘dynamo’ that sustains the spiral. The tie between
passion, energy and freedom that this study suggests
is the first time passion is presented as something
freeing and energising. It shines light on how pursuing
a passionate way of being leads to positive effects that
the research around the Dualistic Model of Passion
has not identified.
However, it is important to note there could
also be a ‘dark side’ to the spiral, occurring when the
passion became overpowering, thus detracting from
life. One of the key factors that led to this adverse
spiral was if one was dependant on external feedback
in order to feel valued, instead of feeling a sense of
value through intrinsic satisfaction. Another factor
which pushed participants into a negative spiral was
obsessing over their purpose to the detriment of
allowing themselves to pursue variety. Through this
they lost control of their passion, as it took over their
life and they no longer had the balance that pursuing
variety provided. Here we can see ties with Vallerand
et al.’s (2003) obsessive passion, in which one loses
control of their excitement for an activity, and
obsesses over the activity and its accompanying
goals. This negative outcome was also seen in Rip,
Fortin and Vallerand’s (2006) study on dance
students, in which obsessively passionate dancers
continued dancing despite injury. Similarly, two
participants in the current study spoke about
obsessing over their goals so desperately they
became depressed. This was then associated with a
sense of hopelessness, resulting in a desire for
escape.
Another element which influenced whether the
passion spiral was positive or negative was how
challenges were approached. Even though the
passionate way of being was driven by a desire to
learn and grow, some participants saw some
challenges as stressful situations in which they felt
forced to succeed, rather than seeing them as
opportunities to learn. The more adaptive latter course
being able to transform potential threats into
enjoyable challenges can be tied to an autotelic
personality trait (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). This ability
to transform how challenges are seen could be a key
ingredient in the positive passion spiral, and needs
further research. Exploring the ways in which passion
can enhance or detract from life, and the factors that
contribute to these varied outcomes, will be a fruitful
avenue for future research.
The present research had limitations which
could be addressed in future research efforts. First, it
could be argued that the participant sample was rather
homogenous in some respects. For example, most of
the participants had grown up in Western cultures and
all were currently living in the Western world. Thus,
future research could examine manifestations of
passion cross-culturally. That said, despite a small
sample size (n = 12), the participants varied in age,
gender, ethnic background, educational background
and choice of careers. As such, it could be argued that
the passionate way of being was found across
professions and demographic characteristics.
Nevertheless, future work will be able to explore
factors around a passionate way of being in particular
sectors of the population, such as stratified by age or
by socio-economic status.
Moreover, future research from a quantitative
perspective could help substantiate the model further.
The novelty of the model, with the view that passion is
a way of being inherent in the person, helps augment
the existing understanding of passion past the idea
that one can only connect with passion through
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enthusiasm towards an activity. Future work could
potentially incorporate Vallerand et al.’s (2003)
Dualistic Model of Passion and its accompanying
Passion Scale to explore its similarities and
differences with the passion spiral. Prospective
quantitative research, ideally based around a scale of
the passionate way of being, will bring more
generalisability to the model, of course with the
proviso that the scale developed met relevant
reliability and validity tests. In addition, introducing
biological or neurological measures, e.g.,
electroencephalography to assess brain activity when
talking about passion, could help explain how the
passion spiral has a positive or negative effect on an
individual in more detail.
The study reinforces and adds to existing
findings suggesting that passion contributes to a life
worth living (e.g. Philippe et al., 2009; Vallerand,
2008). The passionate way of being makes passion
a more accessible phenomenon as it takes the
specific activity out of the picture. Instead of limiting
passion to a particular activity, it shows that a
passionate way of being can be implemented and
expressed across people’s lives. It presents passion in
a new light, and shows that people can pursue a
varied life passionately, and that this very variety plays
a crucial role in feeding the passionate way of being.
The model also highlights the routes towards pursuing
a passionate way of being, namely, choosing to follow
a purpose and being authentic. These two elements
start the self-reinforcing spiral and ensure people do
not get stuck within a specific activity. These findings
may be relevant to those looking to inspire passion in
others, such as educators or coaches who help people
to find their future direction. Identities are dynamic and
continuously evolving (Schlenker, 1985), and a
passionate way of being acknowledges this. Having
self-awareness around one’s dynamic passionate way
of being minimises the risk of obsessing around a
specific activity.
Finally, the passionate way of being is an
answer to Lyubomirsky’s critique of positive
psychology interventions being a quick fix, only
boosting happiness temporarily (Jarden & Steger,
2012). As passion can be seen as a way of being, and
the model acknowledges people are dynamic, this life-
enhancing reinforcing spiral could be a long-term
solution for wellbeing. This is especially relevant
because this paper’s findings show the spiral results in
both hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing, the two
components of a life worth living (Waterman, 1993).
Looking ahead, the next step will be to develop an
intervention which encourages this passionate way of
being to come out of people on a daily basis. In sum,
individuals can be encouraged to adopt a passionate
way of being throughout their life. This way of being is
the result of a reinforcing spiral which in turn
predominantly enhances life, though in select cases
can sometimes detract from it if pursued in an
obsessive way. Individuals can pursue this way of
being by following their sense of purpose, being
authentic, and expressing their passion across
different areas of their life. As such, a passionate way
of being is potentially the answer to finding long-term,
and self-sustaining, hedonic and eudaimonic
happiness.
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    The purpose of the present paper is to present the Dualistic Model of Passion (Vallerand et al., 2003) and show its importance for positive psychology. Passion is defined as a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that people like (or love), find important, and in which they invest time and energy. Furthermore, two types of passion (harmonious and obsessive) are proposed. Harmonious passion leads people to choose to engage in the activity that they love. Conversely, obsessive passion creates an internal pressure to engage in the beloved activity. Harmonious passion is hypothesized to lead to more adaptive outcomes than obsessive passion. Results of several studies reveal that passion matters with respect to a number of outcomes deemed important for positive psychology such as flow and positive emotions, psychological well-being, physical health, relationships, and performance. Passion can indeed make people’s lives worth living to the extent that it is harmonious in nature.
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    The Dualistic Model of Passion (Vallerand, 2010) regards passion as a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that one loves, values, and in which one invests a substantial amount of time and energy. The model proposes two distinct types of passion, harmonious and obsessive, that predict adaptive and less adaptive outcomes, respectively. We hypothesized that individuals relatively high on explicit self-esteem would experience higher levels of harmonious passion, given their implementation of relatively adaptive self-regulatory strategies. Individuals relatively low on implicit self-esteem, on the other hand, would experience higher levels of obsessive passion, given their ego fragility and defensiveness. Participants completed the Passion Scale, the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale, and the self-esteem Implicit Association Task. Path analyses revealed that, consistently with hypotheses, explicit self-esteem positively predicted harmonious passion, whereas implicit self-esteem negatively predicted obsessive passion.