The Association of Humor and Health
Exploring the four temperaments and our wellbeing
Our Beloved Family:
Everyone has heard that laughter is the best medicine. While there is some evidence to support the healing effects of laughter, it’s interesting to note that from the time of the ancient Greeks through the Middle Ages, the word humor was not associated with comedy, but health.
The basis of Greek medicine was a philosophy known as constitutional medicine. It was believed that humans were divided into four basic temperaments which determine how the body and mind work together. Each temperament was governed by one of the four basic fluids or humors of the body that were essential for life and good health: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. A person’s temperament could be identified by a detailed list of characteristics including the type of face shape, hair, skin, physique, appetite, digestion, metabolism, urine, stool, sweat, dreams, mindset and personality. The key to good health was in understanding your constitutional temperament or type. Once that was discovered, it would be clear how a person should eat, live and support themselves for a healthy life.
When a person’s life choices were not supporting their particular temperament or constitution, they were known as being out of temper (Latin, temperare or mix) and would display the obvious negative physical and personality traits that go along with it. It is thought this is why the word humor came to be associated with people acting in strange ways.
The Sanguine Temperament is governed by the blood humor and is the most desirable type because blood is the very essence of vitality and life. These people have a balanced weight with moderate frame and physique, thick hair, rosy complexion, good digestion and metabolism with some tendency for a slow bowel. Predispositions include gout, diabetes, sluggish liver and pancreas and blood disorders. They are poised, outgoing and lovers of beauty in all things, which can lead to over-indulgence.
The Choleric Temperament is governed by the yellow bile humor. Some characteristics include reddish face, broad jaw, penetrating eyes, compact physique with good muscle tone, broad chest, prominent veins, curly, thin or balding hair, love of meat and spicy foods, cast iron digestion and fitful sleep. Predispositions include infections, inflammation, fatty liver and cardiovascular disorders. These people are bold and courageous, but also prone to anger and impatience. With regard to Chinese medicine or Ayurveda, this is the “hottest” temperament and the most catabolic in nature, our modern Type A personality.
The Melancholic Temperament is governed by the black bile humor and can be the most problematic. A squarish head and face with prominent cheekbones, dark straight hair, swarthy complexion and beady eyes signify this type along with weak appetite, gas, bloating and insomnia. Predispositions include anorexia, constipation, arthritis, blood sugar problems and spleen disorders. These people tend to be practical, very efficient, reliable and philosophical but with leanings toward being high strung, frugal, stoic and overly attached to material possessions.
The Phlegmatic Temperament is, of course, governed by the phlegm humor. Some traits include a full, round face with big cheeks, soft features and large eyes with thick lashes. Sometimes a double chin is present. The body is solid, heavy or even overweight with lax muscle tone, pale skin, slow metabolism and a tendency toward deep sleep. Predispositions include poor circulation, thyroid and adrenal problems, lymphatic congestion, gastric complications and respiratory problems. With a kind, nurturing and compassionate personality, they can also be passive, unmotivated and hypersensitive.
When a person’s life choices were not supporting their particular temperament or constitution, they were known as being out of temper (Latin, temperare or mix) and would display the obvious negative physical and personality traits that go along with it. It is thought this is why the word humor came to be associated with people acting in strange ways. They were physiologically out of balance in their governing humor or humorous, behaving in a melancholy, bilious or phlegmatic fashion. Often times, characters behaving in these imbalanced or eccentric ways are the ones that make us laugh. This is why 17th-century playwright, Ben Jonson, was famous for, among other works, his popular plays, Every Man In His Humor and its sequel, Every Man Out of His Humor. The prologue of the latter states, “Some one peculiar quality / Doth so possess a man that it doth draw all his affects, his spirits and his powers, / In their confluctions to all run one way.”
Watching funny or “humorous” characters has a powerful effect on helping us stay healthy within our respective humors. A study performed at the University of Maryland Medical Center showed that participants experienced a 22% increase in blood vessel expansion and blood flow after laughing through a short 15-minute film clip from modern comedies. The cardiovascular changes lasted for 30-45 minutes after the experiment and were comparable to the same benefits one might achieve from aerobic exercise. Because laughter releases high levels of endorphins, it’s also been proven to reduce pain and boost immunity, as well as DHA and serotonin levels. With this in mind, it would be very wise to make humor a significant part of your health maintenance or healing program. As part of your prescription, we’d like to offer this:
A couple had been married for 25 years and was celebrating the husband’s 60th birthday. During the party, a fairy appeared and said that because they had been such a loving couple for so many years, she would give them each one wish.
The wife said, “We’ve been so poor all these years and have never been able to take a real vacation. I wish we could travel all over the world.”
The fairy waved her wand and POOF!—the wife had the tickets in her hand.
Next, it was the husband’s turn. He paused for a moment and then said, “Well, I’d like to be married to a woman 30 years younger than me.”
The fairy waved her wand and POOF!—he was 90
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Light & Love in the Month Ahead,
Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami