Recently, one of you told me you were concerned that you hadn’t yet discovered your passion, and that you therefore wondered if you would ever find true happiness. This is understandable, since the mantra “pursue your passion” has become an almost automatic response to the question “how can I be happy?” in 21st-Century America.
But not to worry, my dear. the pursuit of a singular passion is no prerequisite to happiness. How do I know?
1. Plenty of happy people don’t have “a passion”
Most of the adults I know don’t think of themselves as defined either by their jobs or their hobbies. They’re well aware that they’re never going to be star athletes, rock stars, monks, or moguls. And they don’t worry too much about it.
They love their families, enjoy multiple extracurricular activities, and–if they’re lucky–don’t despise going to work every day. While they’re passionate about pastimes from football to film, they don’t have a passion.
Suggesting that they therefore aren’t happy would be silly. While I can’t claim to see into their souls, many of them live in comparative comfort and enjoy more freedom than pretty much any other people in the history of humanity. They certainly seem happy. And if they aren’t, it may be because they’ve lost sight of the real keys to happiness. Which brings me to my second point…
2. Happiness isn’t anything you can catch
Our culture treats pursuing your passion as a corollary to pursuing happiness. But the pursuit metaphor is misleading in both cases. Happiness is neither a destination you can reach nor an object you can catch. If you’re lucky, it’s how you feel while you’re engaged in your various other pursuits–only some of which you ever get to choose (we all have to take out the trash, do the dishes, pay the bills, and on and on).
What’s more, most people are–rightly–more passionate about other people than they are about any job or hobby. They find the most meaning in spending time with their loved ones, and they’re perfectly happy to do many different things with them. Ask if they’re passionate about their vocation or avocation, and they might just tell you they’d prefer to be on vacation.
I suppose someone could argue that such people’s “passion” is just doing fun stuff with their family and friends. But that’s not what people typically mean when they talk about “pursuing your passion.” They typically mean doing what you love as your job. Which brings me to my third point…
3. Even if you love what you do, you still have to work at it (and keep it in balance)
“If you love your job,” some say, “then you’ll never do a day of work in your life.”
I strongly suspect that this is a truckload of nonsense.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have to work at what they do–and I do know a few lucky souls who truly love their jobs. Even these people have bad days, not to mention bad stretches within good days, when their jobs become annoying or difficult. They, too, have to work at it. And if you told them what they’re doing doesn’t count as “work,” they would be very surprised.
Without question, finding a career you enjoy will make your life better. But my experience suggests that, for most of us, happiness has less to do with locking into the right job than with wandering around a good bit. It looks less like a single-minded pursuit and more like regular decisions to stop and smell the roses, to skip or even dance along the way, and sometimes to just get lost. None of these is a job. Nor is any really a “passion” to be pursued.
All of this suggests that you shouldn’t worry too much about finding your passion. Instead, spend your time and energy figuring out what you really value in life. Is it more important to you to make a lot of money or to make the world a better place? Do you prefer working alone or with others? Do you want to have plenty of time off or a jam-packed schedule? What brings you more joy, new challenges or predictability? Do you want to have a big family? Live in a city? Travel? And so on.
Note that there are no wrong answers to these questions. And there’s no need to worry if you don’t know the answers to them yet. You have plenty of time, and you’re welcome to change your mind along the way.
Also note that I’m not saying you shouldn’t follow your dreams. Just don’t kid yourself that pursuing dreams isn’t work–or that pursuing them will automatically make you happy, even if you succeed.
Happiness comes, insofar as it does, as an effect of living a good life well. Better, then, to try to understand yourself well enough to know what that means for you. Figure that out and you’ll be well on your way. At which point, as noted above, you should feel free to wander. Or stop. Or dance. Even if none of these is your passion.
As always, I love you,