How To Find Your Passion In Life, According To Science

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Perhaps you've heard the saying, "if you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life." I know from experience that doing the opposite can not only be exhausting, it can trigger anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. So, how do you find your passion in life? While being passionate about something doesn't mean you have to turn it into your career, having a passion can help give meaning your life, and it certainly makes living more enjoyable.

"Psychologists often ask the question: How do people conclude that their lives are worth living?" Diana Raab Ph.D. noted on Psychology Today. "Figuring out our passion is one way to do so, and having a harmonious passion is another way."

Personally, doing something I don't like can feel as meaningful and burdensome as pushing a 1,000 pound rock up a hill like Sisyphus, a character in Greek Mythology who was tasked with pushing a boulder up a hill and watching it roll back down for all of eternity. So, what's the alternative?

"Sometimes, finding our passion simply has to do with listening to our inner voice and ignoring the noise around us telling us what we should do," Rabb noted. "It’s also about surrounding ourselves with people who have similar interests, and passions we admire. If we prefer being alone, sometimes it’s best to distance ourselves from others so we can hear our inner voice clearly."

Non-Passion Activities Are Mentally Draining

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The first time I moved to a new city when I was 25 to attend a writing program, I had to take a part-time job to make ends meet. The only gig I could find was at a high-end children's clothing store that paid me a measly $7 an hour. We all have to do things we don't want to in life, and I accepted that I was paying my dues.

I spent 25 hours a week peddling baby clothes — some that cost more than my car payment — to tourists and wealthy local parents. I also had to fold and inspect all of the pajamas before putting them on display.

Because children's clothes are sprayed with flame retardant, which I am allergic to, my arms swelled up like two huge, red balloons. I had to listen to customers call me "the girl," as in "tell the girl to get me another size." I disliked what I was doing so much that I could barely force myself to turn up for work each day, but because I had to pay my bills, and I had a passion I was pursuing on the side, I did.

Despite my dissatisfaction with my job, my true passion has always been writing, and I have known that since I was 7. Because I had writing to hold onto, I knew there was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and that helped get me through my pajama-folding days.

Even if I never made a career out of writing (which thankfully, I did), I knew that I would always have it in my life, and that made taking terrible jobs bearable. But, what if you don't know what your passion is?

How to Find Your Passion

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If you've spent a lot of time doing what others want and expect you to do, and you've prioritized people pleasing over your own happiness, if can be hard to figure out what actually going to make you happy.

"When my students ask me how they can determine where their passions lie, I often ask them to look back into their childhoods to identify what brought them joy," noted Raab, who went into medicine to please her parents before admitting to herself that writing was her true passion. "Many know the answer without much reflection; and in many cases their life’s work is similar to their childhood passion."

Raab also suggested writing down what you'd rather be doing instead of what you're currently doing to help identify what will bring you joy and fulfillment. Because many people don't always think what they are passionate about is a viable career they end up choosing something practical instead, even though it's not what they really want. In some cases this is smart, but not always.

I have many, many friends who have found themselves in this conundrum. My roommate, who is also a writer, originally went into fitness because she told me that when she was growing up being a writer was not considered a "real job." Another writer friend went into healthcare for the same reason, and still another went into sales when she really wanted to be a pilates instructor because she didn't think she could make a living teaching pilates. All three of these people eventually left their "real jobs" that were making them miserable in favor of their passion. And guess what? They are all successful, and much, much happier.

"We are all in search of happiness, which is so often tied to life passion and doing what we were meant to do. Our passion is what we want to do naturally, not what sounds good or what others want us to do. Passion is the fuel that drives us to get out of bed in the morning; it moves us toward our goals," Raab explained.

Even if you can't turn your passion into a paycheck, its mere existence can help sustain you while you're doing other things, like folding children's pajamas.

Your Passion Can Be Different From Your Career

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While you might be really good at something, and be genuinely passionate about it, that doesn't necessarily mean you can make a career out of it. Guess what, that's OK.

There is no rule that says you have to do what you're passionate about to earn money. Simply having a passion is what gives meaning to life, not earning a living at said passion.

The message here is you should be passionate about something in your life, and if you're not sure what that is Rabb offers these tips for discovering your passion on Psychology Today.

  • Think about when you felt or feel happiest.
  • Think about an activity you love doing.
  • Think, or write about, your values.
  • Think about what drives your decisions.
  • Do a self-assessment; identify your strengths.
  • Think about subjects you love talking about.
  • Think about what you’ve always dreamed of doing.

Once you figure it out you can make room for it in your life, and you might even be surprised at how much more meaningful everything  else in your life feels, too. Yeah, passion kind of has the power to do that.