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Professor Robert J. Vallerand, PhD


The Role of Passion in Positive Psychology

In positive psychology, much is said about the role of positive emotions, flow, and well-being in leading a happy life. However, much less is said regarding how to experience these positive psychological outcomes. In this talk, I show that having a passion for a meaningful activity represents one way to experience these adaptive outcomes. Passion is defined as a strong inclination or desire for a self-defining activity that we love, value, and spend a considerable amount of time in (Vallerand, 2010; Vallerand et al., 2003). Two types of passion are proposed: a harmonious and an obsessive passion.  Obsessive passion is involved when people feel that they can’t help themselves and have to surrender to their desire to engage in the passionate activity.  It is as if the activity controlled the person. On the other hand, harmonious passion refers to a strong inclination for the activity that nevertheless remains under the person’s control.  The person can choose when to and when not to engage in the activity, thus preventing conflict from arising between the passionate activity and other life activities. In this talk, I review research that shows that Harmonious Passion positively contributes to emotional, psychological, physical and relational well-being, as well as optimal performance. Although Obsessive Passion may at times positively contribute to some of these elements, its overall effects are less positive and at times, even negative. Implications for the role of passion in positive psychology are proposed.