I'm looking for a word that describes a general feeling of concern for things. Preferably not with a negative connotation (ie. neurotic), but for use as a description of someone who expresses interest in and wants to change things around them.

Dictionary.com gives: interest, care, concern, feeling, passion, sensitivity, sympathy, and warmth. These all feel specific though. You can say someone is generally apathetic, but if you say that a person is generally interested, caring, etc., those have very specific implied meanings (interested ~ interested in something specific, caring ~ cares for others).

  • Etymologically, pathos is the direct antonym of apathy. Nevertheless, a word like passion or fervour is probably closer to what you want.
    – Anonym
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 16:30
  • Or even antipathy. Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 19:46

7 Answers 7


For starters, the way the word apathy is formed according to etymonline gives a hint at what the antonym should be:

apathy (n.) Look up apathy at Dictionary.com c.1600, "freedom from suffering," from French apathie (16c.), from Latin apathia, from Greek apatheia "freedom from suffering, impassability, want of sensation," from apathes "without feeling, without suffering or having suffered," from a- "without" (see a- (3)) + pathos "emotion, feeling, suffering" (see pathos). Originally a positive quality; sense of "indolence of mind, indifference to what should excite" is from c.1733.

So if apathy describes the absence of pathos, then pathos is the opposite...

Alas, pathos, and certainly the adjective pathetic, have acquired quite a negative connotation, and it will not be generally understood any more as feeling, passionate.

So for words that do somehow, in a general way, describe that somebody is actively feeling about things around them, I would suggest passionate as an option:

having, showing, or expressing strong emotions or beliefs.

It seems interesting, when we look at the origin of passion, again on etymonline), that pathos has moved from general (if sometimes suffering) emotional engagement towards a negative, mainly suffering meaning in English, whereas passion, originally mainly meaning suffering, has moved towards a more general, and certainly nowadays positive meaning: I don;t think that most speakers of English will associate someone's passion for human rights with the passion in the passion of Christ.

  • Thank you for such a prompt and thorough answer! Passion is probably the best word for the job. Unfortunately that word has become a bit trite in the tech industry, but the definition is spot-on.
    – poff
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 14:22

My best guess to what you might be looking for:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this

In this way you could say one is generally empathetic.


You might consider engaged:

From Dictionary.com:
1. busy or occupied; involved: deeply engaged in conversation.

I focus on the involved aspect here to meet your need for showing interest and wanting to change things around them.

For example: While Amy used to be quite apathetic, after taking the course she has become deeply engaged in teaching and in fact has become a role model to several new students.


Also consider joie de vivre, which means “Enjoyment of living; happiness, ebullience, zest for life.” [wiktionary]

It's rather more elegant than life curious (which was mentioned in a previous answer).


I think that life curious is a common definition that can suggest a genuine interest in life and contrasts with the state of apathy.

Are you life curious? We are challenging readers to expand their curiosity - to know more and grow more.



"Apathy" and "empathy" are opposites: semantically and etymologically as well.

  • Apathy means lacking emotion; empathy means sharing the feelings of another person. I think @oerkelens suggestion of passionate might be more apposite an opposite. Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 16:55
  • Try using both words with "towards": "apathy towards something", "empathy towards something".
    – fdb
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 17:28

I would say zeal and enthusiasm are the opposite.

  • 1
    Your answer would be greatly improved by explaining why you suggest these words, with such examples and references as would help. Otherwise, the OP could have just checked a thesaurus.
    – choster
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 15:32
  • 1
    because that's what they mean
    – amphibient
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 15:42
  • The purpose of adding details is not to convince yourself you know what you mean, but rather to show others what you mean. Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 23:17

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