Find your passion, find your happiness

Pursue your passion; find your happiness.

While it's Valentine's Day, a day associated with happiness and love, we're not talking about the stuff of romantic Hallmark cards today. This is about finding your passion, your flow, and your life.

For many of us, those are found outdoors.

Whether it's hiking, climbing, or skiing, finding and mastering the activities that gratify and (dare I say it) complete us, is essential to our happiness, or so say the growing number of happiness experts in the field of positive psychology. These pursuits are your passions and everyone should have at least one.

Pursuing a passion brings us more moments of immediate joy and more long-term fulfillment, says Joe Robinson, a work-life balance coach and author of Don't Miss Your Life. This combination leads to gratification and real life happiness.

You can't just assign yourself a passion or activity to love though. You have to try out things that interest you (not what you think should interest you or feel pressured to do), see what clicks, and then work on mastering it. Your passion will be the thing that gets you out of bed early just because, whether it's to skin solo up a mountain, meet a friend to kayak at dawn, or patiently watch for birds.

Writes Robinson in "Does Pursuing Our Passions Really Make Us Happier?" in The Huffington Post:

Passions take foreplay. The passion that can transform your life from missing or just okay to extraordinary has to be developed. [Robert] Vallerand, a pioneer in the field of passion research, and his associates have studied passionate cyclists, dancers, music students and swimmers in search of the keys to avid involvement. Along the way, they have put their fingers on a couple of very important pieces of optimal life. One, pursuing happiness has a lot to do with pursuing competence. It's the pursuit of competence, wanting to get better at something, that fuels the skill-building process. Secondly, you won't get the satisfaction you want from a hobby unless your motivation for doing it is intrinsic. You have to do it to do it, not for a payoff.

Find your passion and you'll likely experience flow.

Flow is the state where it all comes together. You and the rock become one. You move effortlessly down the trail. You dominate the mountain. You find yourself in the zone. This is flow and experiencing it has a strong correlation with happiness.

Writes Lance P. Hickey in "'Flow' Experiences: The Secret to Ultimate Happiness?" also in The Huffington Post:

In order for a flow state to occur, you must see the activity as voluntary, enjoyable (intrinsically motivating), and it must require skill and be challenging (but not too challenging) with clear goals towards success. You should feel as though you have control and receive immediate feedback with room for growth. Interestingly, a flow state is characterized by the absence of emotion — a complete loss of self-consciousness. However, in retrospect, the flow activity may be described as enjoyable and even exhilarating! A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that flow is highly correlated with happiness, both subjective and psychological well-being.

Call it a hobby, a passion, or having a life, but pursuing an activity that gratifies and fulfills you is essential for happiness (and if it's outdoors, it can also make you healthier).

It may sound trite, but our passions — running a favorite trail, skiing fresh powder, climbing a new peak — add real meaning, joy, and fulfillment to our lives. They help us thrive. They make us happy.

If you haven't yet found your passion, try looking outdoors.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

"Does Pursuing Our Passions Really Make Us Happier?" by Joe Robinson

"'Flow' Experiences: The Secret to Ultimate Happiness?" by Lance P. Hickey


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February 14, 2011 at 6:27 p.m. (EST)

I can't imagine what it would be like had I pursued something other than adventure travel. I often wonder where and what I would be doing had I not found mother nature to be the most fasinating thing in the world.

I study on my own geology, biology and everything there is when I am outdoors. Machine's, and other man made things hold little interest for me.  I do happily rely on tents,packs and other gear to make my outdoorlife more comfortable. But I also like studying and seeing how our early ancestors managed to make everything they needed from the world around them.

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February 15, 2011 at 4:55 p.m. (EST)

unfortunately many passions cost money.


It costs money to get started in new activities since many of new activities have specialized equipment. Unfortunately, after buying that equipment, we sometimes find out that the activity was merely an interest and not a passion. So we try to salvage our pride (while feeling like quitters), salvage our wallet by selling the stuff back, and move on to the next one.


Some people are lucky and find their passion the first try. For me it has taken many tries. There are things I love - I played high school and collegiate basketball and am a huge fan, music (I play guitar), but there is only one thing I am PASSIONATE about, and I finally found out in the past couple of years that it's climbing and hiking.



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February 16, 2011 at 12:47 p.m. (EST)


With respect, I think you are confusing consumerist notions of success with more traditional conceptions of 'the good life'. The birth of climbing and backpacking isn't something you could easily associate with increasing disposable income (more like 'disposable time') and I'm sure this forum is populated with people who got their start with borrowed/used/budget gear (or no gear).

The articles are interesting but I think using the idea of 'passion' to describe self-fulfillment through a freely chosen pursuit is unfortunate - it has too many emotional connotations (which is why it might appeal to consumerism) for my thinking. As for the article on 'Flow', I think it is a stimulating topic but I long (with a passion) for the day when someone writes a book showing that this 'flow' is not so specific to the Far East. After all, we had no problem in the seventies understanding 'zen and the art of this or that', when it was first packaged for the West (spiritual materialism?). Or at least, I would venture, the percentage of people who still care about it East and West is probably the same.

On happiness or well-being, the work of Richard Layard, Bruno Frey and recently, Carol Graham, is enlightening. Nudge is also a good book. There's a sense of (as someone here recently noticed) 'duh' to a lot of it but also a sense of 'doh' to much of it - nobody's perfect.

Except, perhaps, Aristotle:

"...when intelligence overcomes passion, it changes the bad qualities into good ones, turning stupidity into discernment, vehemence into acumen, cunning into intelligence, prattle into eloquence, inarticulateness into silence, unruliness into cultivation, recklessness into energy, cowardice into caution, prodigality into liberality, and stinginess into frugality."

"The happy man (sic) is the intelligent one whose intelligence is his most perfect characteristic and whose knowledge is his most excellent provision, who is only enriched by contentment, who is only made more secure by innocence, who is compelled by increase only to gratitude, and who is shielded from adversities only by prayer"


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February 16, 2011 at 5:08 p.m. (EST)

Pathloser - you make some great points, but I guess I wasn't looking very deeply into the issues you described.


When broken down I would take it a step further to say that none of any of this matter at all, that "passion" is not something we choose, that free will doesn't even exist at all. Therefore understanding zen, spirituality, consumerism, or even thinking that passions are legitimate are all moot point.


Too many cultures and too many people within the general public believe the "mind" and the "brain" are two different things. Most people do not understand that even the most basic of things we "choose" to do are physical reactions that occur within our brain. Our emotions, our reactions, our passions, our thoughts themselves, movement, pain, pleasure, planning, what we see, taste, smell, hear, all of it is controlled by our brain.


There is growing bodies of evidence within neurology that our brain chooses how we will react to things without us having any control over it what-so-ever. We don't consciously choose what activities we enjoy, we don't consciously choose our career, in fact, I didn't even consciously decide to write this response to you. Our brain merely reacts to external stimuli, based on which neural pathways in our brain is the best developed. The development of these pathways is determined by the experiences we have throughout life.


So the short of it is this. Passions are not even real in the definition as we understand it. Neither is consumerism, zen, or spirituality. All of this is an illusion, a defense mechanism that causes us to believe our lives have meaning. We are the product of our brains - nothing more.


This takes the magic out of everything, but science is proving more and more that it is likely true.


A good experiment that helps prove this was done in the last few years by neurologists where they had test subjects in a lab with a push button in front of them. The subjects were told that they would hear a tone, and 10 seconds later they were to push the button, but they had to decide whether to push it with their left hand or right hand. The subjects also had brain electrodes hooked up to their heads to read brain activity. 


The subjects thought they made the choice to push it with left or right hands. In reality, their unconscious brain decided for them, 7 seconds before the conscious, motor planning part of their brain actually caused their hand to move.


I could go on and on, but I digress.

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February 17, 2011 at 6:38 a.m. (EST)

Are you saying we don't have souls? Why do you hate America?!

Seriously though, I think the world we live in, where we think we pushed the button to decide (and so justify and elaborate), is where we are stuck; and it is rich enough to make us happy, even if we aren't steering the ship  ourselves directly or instantly. It is also not without it own independent effect on the greater self.

We may be structurally determined organisms but our ability to influence that structure (slow self over quick self), cannot be discounted. I may decide to become the type of person who can refuse to eat cake tomorrow, today. If I enroll in a tai chi class, then next year I will be a different person and that person will have his own set of new, unique possibilities.. 'I' turns out to be a very involving and creative place if I have the strength to create something new.

Something out of nothing?

Aristotle again:

"A human being is under compulsion in the form of having choice."

"The soul is not within the body; rather, the body is within the soul, because the soul is more extensive than the body, and greater in magnitude."

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February 17, 2011 at 1:07 p.m. (EST)

pathloser -

interesting points, but also unfortunately untrue according to this research.

I would LOVE to believe that I have some control over my choices. That I chose to write this post, that I choose to enroll in a Tai Chi course, that I decide today not to eat cake tomorrow - but the research instead points to the neurological fact that the unconscious part of our brain cues us to have the thought that were are choosing not to eat cake.

In other words, we aren't really choosing it at all, we are being directed to have that thought, and the thought itself gives us the illusion that we made the choice.

You should look up soft determinism. This is the branch of this topic matter that holds the same theory you mentioned.

A sensei of mine once told me a good metaphor for this idea we are discussing. When you walk through a field of tall grass for the first time, you are blazing the trail and don't know what to follow. Each subsequent time you walk that trail, however, the trail becomes easier to follow and more trampled down. This is like the brain. When we experience an external stimulus, our brain reacts and it follows one of a million possible neurological pathways. The more well traveled pathways are more efficient at reacting, thus those pathways tend to get used more frequently.

The use of the pathways and how well "trampled" they get is dependent on the experiences we have had throughout life. Some experiences trample certain pathways, while other experiences won't use that pathway at all.

Souls are a different story. I'm very confused to whether they do or don't exist, but if they do, they have no effect on the physical reactions within our brains.

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February 17, 2011 at 2:02 p.m. (EST)

I for one am glad that I chose hiking and cycling as my two most important passions. Both are relitively cheap with out the same amount of money invested in either a good touring bike with panniers or pack, tent and sleeping bag. And I can combine the two into one without much expense. Cycling costs a bit more on the food as burning more calories everyday compared to hiking. But I can go 50-150 miles a day on my bike and walk 10-20 miles, tho when hiking I tend to stop a lot more and see everything around me.

Tires cost about as much as a cheap pair of boots and get as much mileage.

When I travel to a destination my bike gets me there 75% of the time. I do what I call bike/hike touring with my normal hiking gear strapped on or in my pail panniers. Then I choose places that I want to go and hike and ride there and lock my bike to a tree away from stealing eyes and wander off to enjoy a weekend or more. Then come back and head on down the road or trail (where Mtn Biking is allowed) and find a new place to explore on foot.

Food is my only expense allowing me to live on a yearly budget of about $3000, so working to support such trips means only working a few months a year. I tend to hate having to spend money on rent so I choose areas that allow me to camp nearby.

I have never driven or learned to drive a automobile. Last motorized thing I had was a moped at 16 almost 40 years ago. I used to take Greyhound but its just not the same as being on my bike, besides I am in no hurry when I travel.

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February 17, 2011 at 4:53 p.m. (EST)

When you walk through a field of tall grass for the first time, you are blazing the trail and don't know what to follow. Each subsequent time you walk that trail, however, the trail becomes easier to follow and more trampled down. This is like the brain. When we experience an external stimulus, our brain reacts and it follows one of a million possible neurological pathways. The more well traveled pathways are more efficient at reacting, thus those pathways tend to get used more frequently

Humans can always choose not to walk through that field at all; animals can't do that. That might be all there is to freedom. Second-order choice is pretty rich if you aren't too choosey about what consitutes a 'soul'.

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February 17, 2011 at 6:42 p.m. (EST)

but the point of this research is to say that we CAN'T choose.


it's scary, it sucks, it's hard to understand, and our defense mechanisms don't want it to be true...but it might be.

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February 18, 2011 at 5:44 a.m. (EST)

Well, if everything is determined, then nothing is ;-)

Here we are on the internet, in the age of particle accelerators, 3D TV, and Curly Fries, talking about how 'unfree' we are and always were.

And if we "CAN'T" choose at all, then the idea of refusing the "well-worn path" (detachment) in order to gather the available energy for a rationally self-determined new life (the passion) with which to experience happiness (flow, wu-wei, non-doing), is moot. And "We" retreats even further, to manifest finally as a mumbling, irrelevant, homunculus?

If this magical world is the result of a process of unconscious pre-selection, of which we are (mostly) ignorant (kind of like an old idea of God), then I would rather identify with the unconscious, magical self that is having all the fun. It was, therefore, 'me' who pressed the button and it was 'me' who narrated the scene for reasons of self-interest. My 'dark side' is quite successful, evolutionary speaking, so I will be happy to identify with it (on a need to know basis of course). I'll just go with the flow.

But if I am 'not free' and just an observer, yet my life is successful, rich and full of human love, then I am still in a pretty good position even though I only 'do' by 'not doing' much.

Just for you, iClimb, Miyamoto Musashi:

In emptiness there is good but no evil. Wisdom exists, logic exists, the Way exists, mind is empty.

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February 18, 2011 at 4:19 p.m. (EST)

ah miyamoto...the best swordsman to ever live. brings me back to my days of practicing Iaido.

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