As long as you don’t become obsessive and defensive about it, there’s a wealth of evidence to show that having a passion in life is good for you psychologically – people with a so-called “harmonious passion” (but not so much those with an “obsessive passion”) tend to be happier, to enjoy more positive emotions and be more satisfied with life, as compared with people who don’t have a passion. As we look ahead to the new year, a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies poses a simple question: given how beneficial it is to have one harmonious passion, what’s the effect of having two?
Benjamin Schellenberg and Daniel Bailis didn’t go into this research with any firm predictions: they reasoned that perhaps the effect of having two passions would be additive, so people with two would show even more psychological benefits than those with just one. But on the other hand, they considered it plausible that having two passions could get a little complicated – juggling the two might get stressful and each might detract from the other.
To test this, the researchers surveyed 1,218 undergrads (including 878 women) about their most favourite activity and their second favourite. The students answered questions about these activities to reveal whether they were truly passions (for instance, doing something a lot would indicate that it was a passion), and if so, whether it was a harmonious passion or an obsessive passion (here, having difficulty controlling the urge to do the activity would be one sign that a passion was obsessive). The students also filled out a range of questionnaires about their moods and well-being and life-satisfaction.
Overall, 31 per cent of the sample had one passion (about half of these students had a harmonious passion, the other half had an obsessive passion), and 54 per cent of the sample had two passions (roughly a third of this group had two harmonious passions, another third had two obsessive and the remainder a mix). Consistent with past research, having a harmonious passion or two was associated with greater happiness and wellbeing than having an obsessive passion (or two), or with having no passion (15 per cent of the sample had no passions).
Focusing on just those students who had either one harmonious passion or two, the researchers found that having two was better than having one, in terms of enhanced happiness, wellbeing and positive moods. Of course it’s possible that people with two passions simply spend more time on enjoyable activities than those with one passion, but actually the researchers found having two passions was associated with greater well-being and happiness gains even when the total amount of time invested across two passions was the same as the time invested by others in one passion.
“Having a passion in life may be important in the pursuit of happiness, but it may be best to have multiple passions,” the researchers said. They said future research was needed to explore the optimal number of passions to have beyond two, and to study what leads people to develop multiple harmonious passions in the first place. Before you sign up for a new hobby this January, bear in mind a problem with this research is its cross-sectional design (the fact it only took measures at one point in time). This means we don’t know if happier people who are more satisfied with their lives are simply more likely to have multiple passions, as opposed to multiple passions causing extra happiness.
Schellenberg, B., & Bailis, D. (2015). Can Passion be Polyamorous? The Impact of Having Multiple Passions on Subjective Well-Being and Momentary Emotions Journal of Happiness Studies, 16 (6), 1365-1381 DOI: 10.1007/s10902-014-9564-x
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