The Science of Passion

Age old phrases like “Do what you love, and love what you do” or “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” can be frustrating. Obviously, it’s easier said than done to find your passion. As college students, we face decisions everyday that challenge us to find our passions. Soon, we may even approach a decision as to whether we want to turn these passions into a career. We want to commit to something that excites us, inspires us, and motivates us – something that we love to do now and hopefully will love long term. Scientists are intrigued by the curiosity of where passion comes from, and how someone uncovers their destined passion. While countless theories exist and definitely no perfect process has been discovered, exploring a variety of hypotheses may allow us college students to find some direction as we explore the options of our future.

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So, where does passion come from? According to this Fulfillment Daily article, passion is genetically rooted. This is mostly due to the fact that we usually are more inclined to love what we’re good at, and our innate skills are a product of our genes. The article discusses a study done at University of California that found between 22 and 36 percent of the variance in creative successes are potentially due to our variance in genetic skills. In simplest terms, it is scientifically established that being good at something can be partially attributed genetics. For instance, if someone is naturally athletic, they’re more inclined to enjoy playing sports. This scientific journal states that natural athleticism has proven to be associated with two specific genes, ACE I/D and ACTN3 R577X. This discovery was shaped by a meta analysis of 23 studies that statistically investigate the association between the ACTN3 gene and sport performance, which ended up being a positive association. Thus, an example where genes clearly contribute to the talent that would catalyze passion. In addition to genetics, the article brings forth the counter idea that environmental influences could be a somewhat confounding variable. Scott Barry Kaufman, the author of the Fulfillment Daily article discussed above, shares that he is passionate about music. While he attributes this passion to his natural musical talents, he also mentions that he grew up in a musical house. Along the same lines, people usually follow in the direction of parental influence in terms of their career choices. While this data is somewhat anecdotal, there has been countless studies of the “nurture vs nature” argument that would determine the true source of one’s passions. In my opinion, passions stem from a complicated combination of both genetic and environmental factors.

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In addition, motivation also plays an integral role in what generates passion. We have all heard the age old question “what motivates you?” Apparently, the scientific answer is dopamine. When we partake in an activity we enjoy, our brains release dopamine to stimulate our motivation towards that activity. This Forbes article discusses an experiment done with rats that found rats with higher levels of dopamine were more likely to tackle the obstacle of climbing a fence to reach an edible award than rats with lower levels of dopamine. Therefore, if we’re naturally motivated to do something, we are most likely passionate about it too. This concept ties back to our genetically gifted stills as well, think about it in terms of the naturally athletic person example… if someone is naturally athletic, they’re probably highly motivated to practice and play.  

Here’s the catch: We obviously can’t see our genes, and we have a somewhat subjective view of how our environment has truly shaped us. We generally know what motivates us, but sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint. Thus, how does one find their passion? In terms of career passions specifically, this blog claims that an answer to this question could be the Self Determination Theory. This well acclaimed and popularly verified hypothesis states that passion is built on autonomy, competence, and relatedness. One will be passionate about something if they have autonomy, or the ability to control their involvement in the activity. Next, the competence relates to the ability to do something well (which ties back to our inborn abilities and environmental experiences). Finally, the presence of relatedness, or the ability to collaborate and connect with your co-workers and community. An activity or career that meets these three criterias sufficiently is a good sign that this could be a passion worth investing in.  

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I believe these three principles that make up the Self-Determination theory are valuable and valid tools in finding one’s passion. They encourage self-reflection, which is necessary in finding something that fits you best. However, I am skeptical of the fact that there can only be ONE passion that someone can commit to for a career. For instance, someone can be passionate about money, which could lead to many careers. However, they could be passionate about teaching, which only would lead to one. This variance in the implication of a passion makes a single commitment challenging, which is I agree with implementing the theory presented in this Psychology Today article into one’s journey to their passion. The article presents a multi passionate approach, encouraging people to see every aspect of their life with “positive passion energy.” This is the act of creatively building the connection between yourself and a given activity to create passion, almost a manual release of the dopamine that would motivate you to enjoy something. Obviously, I recognize it is unrealistic to love everything you do, but I feel like having this sort of attitude will highlight your primary passions while making everything underneath them a little more enjoyable.
In your search for your own passion, remember that science has found that passions can stem from a variety of origins, such as your genes, environment, and motivations. In order to discover these passions, self reflection is vital. In addition, it is important to pay attention to how much freedom you feel while partaking in something, and how rewarded you feel afterwards. Most importantly, whether you’re set on a passion or you’re still searching, it is proven to be beneficial to see the world like you’re capable of being passionate about anything. An open-minded and positive outlook will illuminate the things you truly love to do.

1 thought on “The Science of Passion

  1. Abigail Roe

    In my opinion, this topic is a very interesting one. Passion is something everyone has, so reading this was enjoyable. Your sources and statistics seem reliable. When you mentioned the example about Scott Kaufman, it was smart of you to recognize and voice that it was somewhat anecdotal evidence. I agree that passion comes from genetics, but I don’t believe that’s where the majority of one’s passion is derived from. I believe it stems from one’s experiences and environmental factors. When we are born, we immediately are exposed to different aspects of our environment. As we grow into the person we become, we find things that click with our personalities. We inherit traits from our genetics and develop habits and behaviors. So all in all, genetics and environmental factors both play a role in accumulating our individual passion…with an emphasis on environmental factors. Here is an article that explains more on passion and how it’s always changing and when we have it.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/finance/personal-economy/11195989/The-science-of-passion.html

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