EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul offers his take on the difference between an enthusiasm for something and a passion for something, and on what the difference means to our dreams, ambitions, and visions of ourselves.
THE CRITICS EXPLODE! “Paul Sunstone knows all about dreams. He knows how to mangle and crush the dreams of his readers. He is the terrifying juggernaut of blogging.” — Arun Ghani, India’s Blogs and Beyond, “The Herald and News”, Hyderabad, India.
(About a 5 minute read)
I guess what I’ve been mulling over, wrestling with, is whether there is much difference between passion and enthusiasm, and if there is, then whether dreams born of passion and dreams born of enthusiasm are gained and lost in different ways?
It seems to me now that there is. That in the first place there is a difference between passion and enthusiasm, and that in the second place, there is a difference between how dreams born of passion and dreams born of enthusiasm are gained and lost.
Passion or passions appear to me to be internal. They seem to come from inside us, and I think might be rooted in our talents. That is, in our genetically-based aptitudes for acquiring knowledge and skill at something. Say, a predisposition for athletics. Or mathematics. Painting. Child rearing. Nursing. Sex. Socializing. And so forth. The things in our lives that we find it easiest to learn, to become skillful at — those are the things we have talents for. And I think now that our passions might be rooted in our talents.
Just as much as passions seem to me to be internal, enthusiasms seem to me to be external. They seem to come from outside us, and I think they are rooted in pleasure and pain. That is, our enthusiasms are based on our desire for pleasure and our aversion to pain and suffering. Their objects resemble our talents in a way. Say we have an enthusiasm for athletics. That might mean that we derived pleasure from exercising our bodies. But it would not necessarily mean that we had any special aptitude for acquiring knowledge and skill at exercising our bodies. Just that we found it on the whole, pleasurable.
So while the objects of our passions can resemble our talents, there is a difference between being passionately interested in something, and being enthusiastically interested in something. The former is to find something comes easy to you. The former is to feel like learning some knowledge or skill is like being carried along by a strong current. The latter is to find that something is on the whole more pleasurable than painful to you. It might be easy or hard for you to do, but it’s more pleasurable than painful overall.
But what then about dreams, ambitions, visions for ourselves?
I think both passions and enthusiasms can give rise to dreams. But dreams born of passions are ultimately internally driven, while dreams born of enthusiasms are ultimately externally driven. In practice that can mean a lot.
If the object of a passion changes or alters, our passion for that particular object might be lost, but our passion is likely to rekindle for some similar object. You love a man, but then something changes him. He turns into a jerk, and you quit loving him. Does that mean you lose all interest in men? For a few people, yes. But for most people, no. It merely means their passion for men is rekindled when a better man comes along.
But it can be different if the object of an enthusiasm changes or alters. Say we have an enthusiasm for some food — to take a simple example. Over too short a time, we eat so much of it that it no longer gives us pleasure to eat it. Maybe now it will never again give us pleasure, we’re done for that food.
So it seems to me passions and enthusiasms are lost for different reasons — or lost in different ways. An enthusiasm — or enthusiasms in general — are lost because their objects change or alter in ways that make them less pleasurable, and/or more painful, to us. But what kills passion?
So many people discover at some point in their lives that they are no longer either enthusiastic or passionate about living. Their lack of enthusiasm seems to me easily enough explained as their having become too familiar with most of the the things they were once enthusiastic about. That is, it seems human nature we become bored with things we become too familiar with. Not always. But often enough. But what can or could kill passion?
I’ve been thinking about that for awhile now, and I am fairly convinced passions die when we become alienated from ourselves.
To become alienated from ourselves is to become untrue to ourselves. It it is to become inauthentic. Suppose you are a young girl in middle school who has a passion for mathematics. Now suppose puberty arrives and you begin noticing that the boys don’t much care for brainy girls. Hormones win out — at least for awhile — and through-out the rest of middle school and high school, you progressively stray from your passion for mathematics. This continues on through university and you graduate with a degree in something you’re not terribly passionate about. Around mid-life, you have begun to feel something profound is missing from your life. And so on.
It happens to so many people — and not just girls — and it most often happens, I think, because of the need for money. We so often pick our careers more for the sake of money than for the sake of our passions.
I think the good news is that if you lose your passion for living, you most likely can rekindle it by rediscovering your talents and then pursuing them in some way — perhaps as a second job or as a hobby.
This post is a reflection on Shreya Vikram’s excellent post, When Dreams Die.