In recent decades, scientists have found that bipolar disorder is widely variable, and that its milder forms are marked by hypomanias, currents of mental energy and concentration that are less reckless than full-blown manic frenzies, and unspoiled, in many cases, by subsequent gloom.

John D. Gartner, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, agrees. In his new book ”The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness And (A Lot of) Success In America” (Simon & Schuster), Gartner contends not only that most of today’s successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople are hypomanic, but that many of our history’s leading figures, such as Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Carnegie, and Henry Ford, had the condition as well. The United States has more hypomanics than other countries, Gartner claims, and these people are largely responsible for the nation’s power and prosperity.

”Energy, drive, cockeyed optimism, entrepreneurial and religious zeal, Yankee ingenuity, messianism, and arrogance – these traits have long been attributed to an ‘American character,”’ Gartner writes. ”But given how closely they overlap with the hypomanic profile, they might be better understood as expressions of an American temperament, shaped in large part by our rich concentration of hypomanic genes.”

Might – or might not. Gartner himself allows that his book rests largely on unproven assumptions, but doesn’t back away from his conviction that they’re correct. Hypomania, he proclaims, ”has made us what we are.”

Why is Hypomania Important

Whether hypomania is the essence of the American success, or a more mundane personal experience. The reason it is important to mental health professionals is that the treatment of depression in those who have also had hypomania is quite different than the treatment of depression in those who have not. Some traditional treatments of depression may actually make people who have had hypomania worse, more depressed, more desperate.

What is Hypomania

Hypomania, in essence is a noticeable change in mood and energy that persists for at least four days and that has some or all of the following characteristics:

  1. A period of enhanced self esteem, a stronger sense of personal value or importance, perhaps even the experience of being somehow central to some other purposes, a sense of being connected and related to others.
  2. A feeling of being tireless, indefatigable, unwearying, of being able to mount a sustained effort and of having unflagging energy. Often associated with doing well with less sleep than usual.
  3. A time of being animated, lively, talkative, friendly and willing to talk to those that one might not ordinarily be comfortable speaking to.
  4. A period when one’s thoughts are inventive, fanciful, original, imaginative, individualistic, unique, unusual, uncommon, distinct, different, and perhaps even moving at a rapid tempo or flying.
  5. A sense of being drawn to things that are often missed. Fascinated by things around one, seeing things in a new way, the colors may seem brighter, smells and tastes richer, an experience of pleasure in the senses.
  6. A time of being productive, energetic, prolific, successful, profitable, restless, perhaps fretful, possibly ceaselessly in motion.
  7. Having the experience of being adventurous, wild, engaging in an escapade or affair, being unusually athletic, a daredevil, bold, an adventurer, or a risk taking entrepreneur, intensely enthusiastic, perhaps being a big spender and not worrying about the consequences.

We like to ask the people we see to think back to a particular time in their life when some of these words seemed to apply to them. Describe that time. Would others have noticed that your behavior was different from your usual behavior (not necessarily in a negative way). And did you experience several of these types of experiences. If so you may have experienced hypomania.