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Stop Trying to be Happy

Help! I Don't Have a Passion

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If you grew up on planet earth you’ve likely been carpet-bombed with unsolicited “follow your dreams” advice since birth. Re-watch any of the Disney classics. Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules—all tell you you’re supposed be the hap-happiest person on the planet, going on breathtaking adventures while smothered in a warm blankey of lubby-dubby clichés.  

I mean, I get it. Who wouldn’t want to be Hercules singing “I can go the distance” to a random body of water, simultaneously realizing a true path—a calling. Plus you’d get to date (and be) someone with a waistline that would make Barbie jealous. For real, these are some gnarly waistlines.

The problem is that these movies advocate life-goals rooted in fantasy. And when our lives don’t feel like fantasy, we suddenly set our sights on pursuing that feeling. And of course we call that pursuing our passion.

So, what is this passion crap anyway?

Passion, in essence, is just an emotion. My dad disagrees with me on this. And it makes me wonder when he’ll realize I’m always right. The literal definition is “a strong and barely controllable emotion.” And of course, emotion originates in the brain. That passion-feeling is a product of a little “hit” from our reward system (known as the Ventral Tegmental area), after we perform a particular action or behavior. And if that action leads to success (such as social recognition, cashflow or getting an “A” on that essay), then your brain might crave another hit. That craving can be described as your “passion.”

Ok, so who cares?

Well, it’s important to note that passion is JUST a feeling. This is exactly why passion seems so elusive to those seeking it.

So, what do I do if I’m fresh out of passion?

As simple as it sounds, the reason you don’t feel passionate for life is likely because you’re probably not doing stuff you like to do. And I don’t mean Facebook stalking your ex while watching a Judge Judy marathon. I mean you’re not expressing yourself. You’re not being yourself. You’re not engaging with what inspires you.

This is why Ralph Waldo Emerson and I think you need purpose, not passion. This is an important distinction, fam. Remember, passion is just a feeling. Purpose is doing something that you’re actually good at that helps someone or something in someway. Purpose is your skills exploited for the greater good, even just the greater good of the immediate people around you. But my boy Waldo says it better:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

That’s right. Identify your talents. You have at least one, don’t you dare tell yourself you don’t. Explore the endless ways you can use that talent for good. Look, if someone can make a living smashing their face into bread, then you can freakin’ figure out how to make your talent a life-long pursuit.

And you’ll likely get this passion-feeling if you can use those talents in a way that allows you to help or inspire others. Like Justin Bieber. He inspires me to hate humanity everyday and I could never do it without him.

Look, I’m writing a blog right now—something that stopped being cool in the early 2000s. There’s nothing new about what I’m saying or how I’m saying it. And I'm literally wondering at this moment if anyone read this far. But I’m taking the time to write all of this because I believe it. And I sincerely think it can help. Not because I’m trying to fill my passion-hole.

This is why “follow your passion” is just bad advice. Passion should be what drives you to pursue what you’re good at. Passion isn’t what you actually pursue.

But is there something wrong with me if I don’t have a dang ol’ passion?

Nothing is wrong with you. In fact, there is nothing wrong with any part of your journey. It’s all pages in your story, pardon the cliché. But just like a book, you would never read just to get to the ending. You enjoy the whole thing. It’s ok that life takes time. Stop trying to skip to the end.

Oh, and have you heard of the “Passion Paradox?”

Ryan Holiday sums up this advice perfectly (and it hit home with me):

“How can someone be busy and not accomplish anything? Well, that’s the passion paradox. If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then passion is a form of mental retardation—deliberately blunting our most critical cognitive functions. The waste is often appall­ing in retrospect; the best years of our life burned out like a pair of spinning tires against the asphalt.

The takeaway: Pursuing an endeavor that utilizes your skills can AT LEAST point you in a sensible direction. Run in that direction with every ounce of energy and courage you have and adjust as you go. If you keep up the pace (that is, don’t give up), and tuck away some optimism in your shirt pocket, you might find a meaningful existence wasn’t so far away. Then you’ll get to make one of those Instagram posts with a long caption spouting off some preachy monologue with a plethora of unnecessary vocab words (see what I did there) to show off how smart you’ve become, you overcame struggle and how dreams really do come true.

The moral of the story: don’t listen to your dad (this is a funny joke dedicated to those who actually took the time to read this article instead of scanning over it, wondering why it wasn’t a listicle).

Even if you did, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below!