10/7/13

Origins of the Passion Hypothesis

Last week, I wrote that I would discuss my thoughts on why pursuit of “passion” - the belief that an inherent calling, the development of which leads to personal success, exists for everyone - is such a prominent part of American, and now Western, culture. I also wrote that I would only discuss what I felt would be be relevant to many. So I first explain why I feel pursuit of “passion” may be relevant to this readership.

My early thoughts about the potential importance of this topic came from outside sources. I have felt that almost every philosophy explains, in part, that unhappiness is caused by unfulfilled desires. Conversely, almost every philosophy explains that  happiness is founded through appreciation and mindfulness of the present.

Seneca writes in his Letters to a Stoic, for example:
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.
And Lincoln, although not a contributor to a philosophy but perhaps someone who had the same values as others of his time, writes:
“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
If we live in a society that supports pursuing passion (which may be contrived to begin with) and failure to achieve these passions is widespread for the masses, is there any surprise that the Western world may be severely unhappy? And is it equally surprising that Nigerians rank among the happiest in the world, despite not being able to conceive, let alone have, a “passion” in the Western sense?  

Once the relevance of this discussion has been established, it is important to examine whether the topic is actually independent of others. Is the pursuit of passion synonymous with the American Dream, for example?

Passion seems too crude to account for The Great Gatsby, perhaps the best-known representation of the American Dream. The elusive green light suggests a mystical quest in search of the unattainable, not a more mundane struggle to find our true calling, meaning that the concept of passion never arose until perhaps past the early 1900s. The immigrant experience, a chronological counterpart to Gatsby, dictated financial security and nothing more, once again suggesting that Western society’s promotion of “passion” began only after the early 1900s. Of course this type of examination has its flaws. Maybe a better indication of active American, and eventually Western, promotion occurred in the 1900s. 

Whatever the case, it’s fair to say that the current American and Western Hypothesis debuted only recently. Its quality and likeness to truth should not be perceived as it normally is, meaning there is much room to explore it.

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