Think Following Your Heart Is a Waste of Time? Think Again.
Ever feel like your gifts and talents are frivolous? Or that you need a “real job” to pay the bills? Do you treat your passions as if they’re side projects, only to be enjoyed on the weekend or when you have enough time (which is never)? Me too.
One of my goals, however, is to help myself and others shift this mindset.
But lately, I’ve been wondering why I’m so obsessed with helping people spend more time doing what they love. Why aren’t I interested in more “noble” causes, like ending world hunger or saving the rain forests? This line of questioning led me to a thought experiment where I asked myself:
What would the world look like if everyone were fully executing their unique gifts?
What would society be like if everyone woke up in the morning excited to do what they love for most of the day?
Then it hit me: My mission is just as noble as any other. Why? Because the answers to these questions provide solutions to many of the problems that currently plague the world.
The challenge is that many of us don’t know what our passions are, ignore our passions because we don’t think anyone would ever pay us to act on them, or believe that using our gifts is a waste of time.
The truth, however, is that doing what you love not only benefits you personally but also has an immensely positive impact on the people around you (and even on society as a whole).
I will be honest by saying that I haven’t done any systematic research on this, but I have a hunch that people who do what they love are not only happier but also healthier. I recently read a blog here on Positively Positive about a 110-year-old woman who prioritized her passions and is still going strong. Other examples cited in the blog include a 122-year-old woman who ate two pounds of chocolate per week, and the last surviving World War I veteran who swam in the ocean every day until he turned 100. Last week, I watched a documentary about Bill Cunningham, a photojournalist for The New York Times who, at over eighty years of age, still rides his bike around New York City to snap photos of fashion on the street.
What do these people have in common? They all seem to have spent a large amount of time throughout their lives doing what they love. At age 80 or 90 or even 122, they weren’t obsessed with eating a vegan diet or practicing yoga every day. They were determined to do what made them happy. Period.
In contrast, let’s picture what many people in North America (and many other places around the world) do every day. They commute to soul-sucking jobs that leave them with little energy to follow their passions. They’re so exhausted that, during their “free” time, they watch hours of reality television, eat junk food, and put on weight. If they haven’t had a heart attack by age sixty, they will eventually suffer from a number of physical and mental health problems, like depression, obesity, diabetes, and even cancer. In Japan, there’s actually a medical term (Karōshi) for people who die from overwork.
There is something seriously wrong with this picture.
Imagine if, on the other hand, all of these people spent as many hours as possible doing what they love. Maybe their marriages wouldn’t be failing. Maybe they would be less depressed. Maybe they would be physically healthier. Maybe they would spend more time with their children—and bring up happier, healthier children because they themselves were happy. Imagine the impact that this physical and mental health would have not only on the person but also on their family, friends, and, perhaps, the entire world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that the desire that humans have to express themselves, whether through art, music, writing, or any other type of passion, is an inherent human need that is as strong and important of a drive as our need for food or even sex. I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve always loved the movie It’s a Wonderful Life because it shares a great example of how one person’s life, when lived with kindness and love, can positively impact a web of people. The main character in the movie, George Bailey, feels as though his acts of kindness are relatively mundane and unnoticed. However, when an angel gives him a chance to see what his town would look like if he’d never been born, he sees that his small acts of love actually made the entire town a better place. In other words, doing what you love can actually benefit the world.
Imagine a world where we were all contributing to society in a way that felt good for us.
People who liked working in office jobs worked in office jobs. People who liked to paint painted. People who enjoyed repairing shoes fixed shoes. Imagine if the school system was designed in a way that gave ample time for children to figure out what their passions are. Basic skills would be taught, like the ability to count and read, but there would also be entire classes from kindergarten all the way to twelfth grade that encouraged youth to discover and develop their gifts. The emphasis wouldn’t be on following a safe path that would guarantee a high income. Instead, all gifts and paths would be welcome.
This type of system might result in a situation where, from a relatively early age, office workers would be confident that they wanted to pursue an administrative career, doctors would know they wanted to be doctors, and artists would not only know that they wanted to pursue art, but they would actually be encouraged to do so.
Imagine the advances we would make as a society if everyone were perfectly aligned with their passions.
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There would not only be technological innovation but also amazing cultural progress. Perhaps the next Mona Lisa would be painted. Maybe there would be thousands of Mother Theresas and Nelson Mandelas and other enlightened masters walking the earth. Maybe there would be no world hunger or rain forest devastation because we would have the benefit of learning from (or being) these types of masters. How could society not benefit from this?
The question is: How do we move from our current situation, where so many people are stifling their gifts, to a place where we are all living on purpose?
I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have the answer. But I think that my life’s purpose is to work on it.
At a fundamental level, I believe the way society is structured needs to change. This could take many, many years and might not even happen in my lifetime. But as Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, maintains, society cannot continue in its current state. We are not only going to burn ourselves out but we are also going to deplete the earth of its natural resources and end up turning on each other even more than we already are.
We need to seriously question the beliefs that currently guide the way many humans live their lives. Why is the school system set up to promote academic achievement at the expense of physical and mental health? Why do we have to put in exactly eight hours of work per day? Why do we need RRSPs and an SUV to be happy? Why is the economy set up in a way that promotes greed, corruption, and poverty?
A relatively logical answer to these questions might be: “We have to work eight hours per day so that we can afford our homes, feed ourselves and our children, and retire with enough money to live. In fact, this whole blog is naive and overly idealistic. If everyone spent all day doing what they love, nothing would ever get done. Besides, it’s inherent human nature to want more than the person next to you. Eventually, humans will pollute any idealistic society with hatred and greed—it’s inevitable.”
This argument is fine as far as current thinking goes.
But I believe that in order to make radical change, we need to break free from current thinking.
We need ideas that are way outside of the box.
Philosophers have come up with various ideas about ideal societal structures for centuries. Karl Marx pulled together theories that led to the formalization of communism. Giovanni Gentile called himself “the philosopher of fascism.” Charles Fourier developed a cooperation-based societal structure that led to the formation of several communes throughout the United States.
So far, none of these ideas have fully worked. There seem to be inherent problems with all types of societal systems, whether they are communist, democratic, fascist, or something in between. And while I don’t believe that any of us needs to become communist or fascist or move to a hippie commune, I do feel that we need to invest time and energy into formulating a societal structure that works. What is this structure? Honestly, I don’t know. But I would love to figure it out.
Humans are amazing creatures. We are beautiful, intelligent, innovative beings, and I know that we can solve the dilemmas that currently face us. In my opinion, part of the solution involves us doing more of what we love. And I guess that’s why I’m so passionate about waking as many people up to their passions as possible. Excuse this grandiose comparison, but in the same way that Gandhi wanted to free the people of India from British rule, I want to free humanity from the societal belief systems that are currently holding us hostage (and making us miserable).
As Martha Beck says,
“The biggest mistake you can make is to accept your beliefs without challenging them, without applying the scientific method to see if they are, in fact, true. Many of us assume that we have to do things a certain way: ignore passion in favor of safer bets, act stoic amid inner turmoil, run on an upward trajectory of success and money acquisition at any emotional cost. But these are not rules. These are just theories that haven’t been tested.”
Are you ready to test your beliefs?
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
*Image courtesy of vxmxpx.