Well-Being Mental Health

Why pursuing your passion outside work is good for you

A man works under the hood of a vintage car
Working on vintage cars is one of many possible passions that can help boost your health. Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Studies show that following your passions is good for your health and happiness.
  • Americans tend to pursue passions more in the workplace than Europeans, but there are benefits to cultivating interests outside of work.
  • “Once I got started, it felt so amazing to be creative. It sparked something inside of me,” says one woman.

Feeling unfulfilled at work and seeking more joy in 2020? Reenergize by following your passion outside of your job.

Studies show that engaging in something you’re passionate about and that’s meaningful can have positive outcomes on your health and happiness.

Even better, having multiple harmonious passions — for example, a job in which you find purpose, and then also engaging in an enjoyable and invigorating hobby after work — can boost the positive effects on your well-being even more.

Susan Sanford agrees. She’s a teacher by day at a private school in Virginia and an award-winning stage actress in the evenings and on weekends, most recently starring in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” at the November Theatre in Richmond. Sanford thrives while juggling both positions, as well as the important role of being a loving mom.

“Teaching is my job; theatre is my soul. I also think that it sets an important example to my sons. They need to see that if you have something in your life that you’re passionate about and that brings joy, then you need to make time for it so that you can be joyful with the ones that you love,” says Sanford.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that young people name career passion as their top priority — ranking it higher than making money and getting married. The study, which involved interviewing U.S. teens age 13 to 17, shows 63 percent said it was “extremely important” and 32 percent said it was “very important” to have a career they enjoy.

Harvard Business School’s Jon Jachimowicz says although pursuing passion at work is known to “increase work engagement and job performance,” depending on work as the only way to pursue your passion may be unrealistic for many. For example, perhaps what you’re passionate about cannot financially support you and your family. Or you may be shattered if your identity is tied to work only, and you get laid off. Jachimowicz says purpose is more important than passion, and seeking activities that you care about outside of work may be more beneficial to your happiness.

In his research, Jachimowicz also emphasizes that higher performance and success in what you’re passionate about comes not necessarily through passion alone, but most often through a “combination of passion and perseverance.”

Dave Pearson of Virginia, whose background includes engineering at Dominion Energy’s North Anna Power Station, is now an engineering instructor. He enjoys teaching others but spends his time outside of work pursuing his love for photography and writing. Pearson has recently begun photographing athletic events and music concerts and writing reviews for Digital Beat Magazine.

“The photo side of things is my artistic release,” he says. “It allows me to use science to capture memories while allowing me to be an extrovert.”

Cara Bickers of Albemarle County, Va., has also discovered her passion for artistic creativity. Bickers, a loving mom who has worked up to three jobs at a time, recently decided to learn how to make the tie-dye fashion wear that she admires.

“Once I got started, it felt so amazing to be creative. It sparked something inside of me,” Bickers told Changing America.

After she started wearing the shirts she designed, people noticed her work and asked to purchase her tie-dye clothing. She’s even started teaching classes and was invited to display her fashion at a music festival.

“Now it’s a small side business,” she said about Cara’s Colorful Creations. “I wish I could devote the time to help it grow more, but for now, I’m going to just enjoy the ride and see where it takes me.”

If you check out Google’s Ngram viewer — which measures the popularity of a given phrase over time — you’ll see “follow your passion” is on the minds of many people these days. Jachimowicz notes that “the desire to pursue passion at work is a modern phenomenon — and one relatively unique to the United States. In other countries, particularly European ones, people more commonly find fulfillment outside of work.”

In his recent article in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson explains that Americans’ “conception of work has shifted from jobs to careers, to callings.”

If you’re fortunate to find your passion at work, that’s a bonus, but if not, embracing the joys of a passion outside your job can be even more fulfilling and help support your mental health, according to some experts.