Euthymia or happiness? Most people would choose to be happy. Stoic philosophers, however, would choose euthymia because they knew that this state of inner balance leads to happiness. But it also helps us to be more resilient, to better face adversity, to be more independent and to develop a greater tolerance to frustration. Unfortunately, the concept of euthymia has been emptied of its meaning with the passage of time.
What is the meaning of euthymia?
The term euthymia is of Greek origin. It is the result of the combination of the pronoun “eu” which means “good” and “thymos” which means “soul or emotion”. However, in reality this last term encompasses four different meanings: vital energy; feelings and passions; will, desire and inclination and, finally, thought and intelligence.
Therefore, if we refer to the original meaning of euthymia, it is not limited only to a positive state of mind, but goes much further, referring to a balance of all psychological content.
The stability of affections
In Psychology, the term euthymia has been used in a more restrictive way, fundamentally to refer to the absence of alterations in mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder. Euthymia would be, therefore, the periods of balance between mania and depression.
In the past it was thought that people with mental disorders recovered their full capacities in the euthymic phase, but now it is known that between 40 and 60% of euthymic patients have neurocognitive disorders.
This discovery has called into question euthymia as an eminently positive emotional state to make way for a broader concept of euthymia linked to balance. It would be, therefore, a feeling of well-being and balance characterized by a feeling of calm joy and inner peace.
In fact, in 1991 the psychiatrist Garamoni suggested that euthymia be a healthy level of functioning characterized by an optimal balance between positive and negative affects and cognitions. In this way, psychopathology would be the result of a deviation from that balance.
According to this perspective, euthymia is not a state devoid of affect and negative thoughts. These exist, but they do not make us lose stability. If negative emotions and feelings prevailed, it would be made reference to a negative state of mind or dysthymia, generally characterized by sadness and nostalgia. And if positive emotions were excessive they would also break the mental balance and be harmful, as in the case of mania.
The 3 secrets of philosophers to achieve euthymia
“If you wish to be unflappable, it is an excellent thing, in fact, it is the best of all and one of the ones that sets man up to the level of god. The Greeks called that mental steadfastness euthymia […] What we need to understand is how the mind can follow a constant and smooth course, how it can feel self-satisfied and look around with pleasure, and not experience joy interruptedly but to remain in that state, in a peaceful condition without ever being euphoric or depressed: that is ‘peace of mind’”, Seneca said.
The Stoic philosopher aspired to achieve euthymia. He considered that it was a state of internal calm and satisfaction linked to psychological well-being, a “tranquillitas animi” that was accompanied by a “felicitatis intellectus”, which would be full awareness of that well-being. Thus he makes us understand that euthymia is not a state that we reached by chance but the fruit of conscious effort and hard internal work.
The first step in developing the euthymic state, according to Seneca, would be to stop judging. “Peace of mind can only be achieved by those who have achieved unwavering power over judgments”, he said.
The judgments we make about things are those that often rob us our balance by feeding frustrations, tensions, disappointments and anger, states that end up accumulating. So we need to judge less.
Seneca also gave us a second clue to achieve euthymia: to live fully present. “The true happiness is to enjoy the present without anxious dependence on the future, not to have fun with hopes or fears, but to rest in peace, like the one who wants nothing. The greatest blessings of humanity are within us and are within our reach. A wise man is content with his chance, whatever it may be, without desiring what he doesn’t have.”
The third and final advice comes from Democritus, another philosopher who made reference to euthymia. In his case, he believed that this comes from being satisfied with what we have and what we are. It would be a state of tranquility in which we do not seek anxiously to accumulate more things, nor do we lose the sleep for not having them. That does not mean stop growing or resigning, but rather feeling satisfied here and now as we work to improve the future.
So he recommended paying little attention to the important and often envied and admired people around us to focus our attention on those who have the least and suffer the most. That comparison allows us to put our suffering, pain, or alleged bad luck into perspective. And it also allows us to develop the gratitude essential to calm our restless mind.
Of course, there is no ideal recipe for achieving euthymia. Each person must find their optimal balance, that state in which they feel comfortable, in which nothing is too much but also not lacking. And that will depend on factors such as your personality, the social and cultural context and, of course, the internal work you do.
Linden, M. (2020) Euthymic suffering and wisdom psychology. Word Psychiatry; 19(1): 55-56.
Bhatia, P. et. Al. (2018) Neuropsychological Functioning in Euthymic Phase of Bipolar Affective Disorder. Indian J Psychol Med; 40(3): 213–218.
Séneca, L. A. (2018) Cartas a Lucilio. Epístolas escogidas. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel.
Fava, G. A. & Bech, P. (2016) The concept of euthymia. Psychother Psychosom; 85: 1-5.
Garamoni, G. L. et. Al. (1991) The balance of positive and negative affects in
major depression: a further test of the states of the mind model. Psychiatry Res; 39: 99-108.