What makes an emotion a passion?

September 20, 2014 by Joshua
in Evolutionary Psychology, Models, Nature, Visualization

What’s the difference between emotions and passions?

In a leadership context I look at emotions functionally, as motivations. In an art or music context, I think more about how emotions feel and how to express them. To distinguish them, I think the functional view helps more.

A passion is something that motivates you strongly with strong feelings.

In other words,

a passion is a strong or intense emotion.

A lot of people seem to think of emotions as ethereal or mysterious, which makes them hard to understand. Many also see passions as something they wish they had so they could achieve more, like others do. They feel like the passions they could have unluckily elude them.

I think of emotions and passions lying along a spectrum of subtlety and intensity like this:

Emotion-passion spectrum

Spectrum of emotions and passions with examples underneath. Subtle and low intensity is to the left. Intensity is to the right. Not all are able to find life-long passion in their careers.

I find that the more you understand your emotions, the more the spectrum between subtle emotions becomes clear and the more easily you find sources of passion and live life passionately. Likewise, the less you understand emotions, the less likely you’ll find sources of passion.

How you can tell potential sources for passion

I believe our strongest emotions are ones everyone can understand from any culture or civilization. I think so because our emotions evolved to help us survive and pass on our genes, so our strongest motivations have probably been in our species for a long time, specifically before our ancestors left Africa and split into different cultures, which would have happened a few tens of thousands of years ago.

Sometimes I call universally understood emotions pre-plow or Timbuktu emotions. Pre-plow implies our hunting-and-gathering ancestors would have had them, so desire for money wouldn’t qualify, because they didn’t have money back then. Desire to protect your family or for recognition from your peers would make sense as potential passions. Timbuktu implies that any culture today would recognize the same emotions. Since some cultures don’t have money, this description also rules out a desire for money but keeps protecting family and recognition of peers.

If you’re looking for more passion in your life, try to look in places anyone would understand, even someone in Timbuktu or living before agriculture. If you’re looking for it in menial tasks you probably won’t find it. If you look in relationships, personal development, social interactions, and things like that, I think you’ll stand a better chance.

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