It might be informative to return to the issue of intentional activities
Second, if “positive” activities such as Yoga do not automatically lead to positive affective experiences during activity engagement, then their positive effects on psychological well-being are not automatic either
One question we may pose is the following: Is mere engagement in intentional activities sufficient to positively affect psychological well-being? While I agree that some activities may be more positive than others in bringing about positive affective experiences and psychological well-being, such as mindfulness meditation (Lutz et al. 2008) and loving-kindness meditation (Fredrickson et al. 2008), the main message of this paper is that the activity is not the whole story, far from it. What also (and perhaps mainly) matters is how people engage in a given activity. In addition to helping the person return to the activity on a regular basis, one’s passion also determines the quality of engagement in the activity. Thus, to the extent that one’s passion for a given activity is harmonious, then one should be able to reap full benefits from engagement in a “positive” activity such as meditation. However, if one’s passion is obsessive, then less than optimal, and perhaps even negative, outcomes should be experienced.
We have recently tested these hypotheses with an activity widely recognized as highly positive, namely Yoga. Yoga is a discipline that originates from India and that focuses on the development and maintenance of the natural balance between mind, body, and soul. Research reveals that the yoga practice can enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote respiratory and cardiovascular function, increase positive affect and ), as well as enhance psychological well-being (Collins 1998). If only the activity matters, then passion for Yoga should not make a difference and mere engagement in Yoga should be enough to derive some positive consequences. However, if passion does matter, then even with Yoga, only harmonious passion should lead to positive benefits while obsessive passion may be unrelated to outcomes or may even lead to some negative effects.
It would thus appear that harmonious passion should play a key role in the positive effect of involvement in activities even as positive as Yoga in psychological well-being
Two studies were conducted (Carbonneau et al. 2010, Studies 1 and 2). In the first study, participants from the “normal population” (ranging in age from 19 to 60 years) who had been engaging in Yoga for several years completed the Passion Scale for Yoga as well as scales assessing positive and negative affect and state anxiety experienced during Yoga classes. Results revealed that only harmonious passion was positively associated with positive affect and negatively with negative affect and state anxiety. Obsessive passion was only positively associated (but non significantly so) with state anxiety. Study 2 went further and looked at changes in outcomes that took place over a 3-month period for regular Yoga participants once more from the normal population. Results basically replicated those of Study 1. Specifically, harmonious passion predicted decreases in negative emotions, state anxiety, and general (negative) physical symptoms, but increases in positive emotions that took place over time during Yoga classes. Obsessive passion only predicted a significant increase in negative emotions experienced during Yoga classes. These findings were obtained even while controlling for the number of weekly hours and years of involvement in Yoga.
These findings are important for at least two reasons. First, they underscore the fact that we need to go beyond mere engagement in intentional activities even as positive as Yoga to determine the type of affective experiences that will be experienced by the person. The quality of activity engagement matters, with harmonious passion leading to a more positive engagement and consequently to more positive (and less negative) outcomes than obsessive passion. However, because psychological well-being measures were not assessed in the Carbonneau et al. (2010) studies, future research is needed in order to more directly test this hypothesis.