In the late 18th century, describing someone as being “passionate” about an issue meant they were very emotional about it, but not necessarily in a good way. Getting “passionate” when a particular topic came up meant getting “bent out of shape,” being “too worked up,” exploding emotionally, and having difficulty with self-control when discussing the issue. What used to be called excessive passion is today called being overly emotional about an issue to the point that it clouds good judgment.
When it comes to effective coping with stress, in 18th century usage, becoming passionate about an issue would be counterproductive, because excessive emotional outbursts would make rational and reasoned examination of a conflict difficult. Becoming passionate would produce defensiveness, frustration, and even hatred, sending calm deliberation out the window.
What “passionate” means today, of course, is somewhat different than two hundred years ago. If you are passionate about something you are immersed in it, committed and dedicated to the issue; you love it and find it worthwhile and satisfying. Whether it be music, science, serving others, or childrearing, being passionate suggests a devotion to effort and always striving to improve.
Each year college admissions committees try to bring in a “well-rounded” class of students with diverse interests. The committees do not want cookie-cutter young people who all fit the same mold. Except, that is, for one thing: Passion! Admissions committees want students who are passionate about life and learning, and about at least one special activity that gives their life meaning, purpose, and motivates them to achieve important goals.
When it comes to coping with stress, you must also develop passion about your life. This doesn’t mean you love every aspect of your life and jump from one enjoyable aspect to another. No, passionate coping means you value life in general, and believe it is important to be an active participant in life.
Being passionate encourages you to engage yourself in both the good and the bad aspects of living: you strive to “connect,” not avoid, even when faced with challenges; you become devoted to effort, not ambivalence; you plan rather than withdraw; you seek achievement, not stagnation. Connecting, striving, planning, and achieving are effective coping strategies.
As tennis star Billie Jean King once said: “No matter how tough, no matter what kind of outside pressure, no matter how many bad breaks along the way, I must keep my sights on the final goal, to win, win, win, and with more love and passion than the world has ever witnessed in any performance.”