The Ancient History of Humor and Health | Brad Montgomery

The Ancient History of Humor and Health

The Ancient History of Humor and Health

by Dan Gascon

There is a deep, historical relationship between the two words humor and health. Their interaction is essential for our well-being.

The word humor derives from the Latin word umor, which means fluid or liquid; to be moist. At least as early as 2500 B.C., ancient Greek and Ayurvedic medicines, along with traditional Chinese medicine, linked the body with the cosmos. They believed the Earth’s elements were converted during digestion into three body fluids called humors; vatta (wind-breath), pitta (bile) and kapha (phlegm). In 400 B.C., Hippocrates helped refine the Greek idea of there being four humors, and in the 2nd century A.D. the physician Galen wrote extensively on them. It was believed the four humors related to the elements and the seasons, and were qualities of temperament and disposition:

The Body’s 4 Humors
phlegmatic blood
yellow bile
black bile
phlegm (air, spring)
(fire, summer)
(earth, fall)
(water, winter) optimistic, cheerful
angry, irritable
sad, gloomy
sluggish, indifferent

In almost all individuals, one humor was thought to dominate both personality and health problems. It was the job of medicine to keep one’s humors in balance with the treatment of herbs and food. This was carried over during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where patients were diagnosed on the basis of being in good humor or poor humor in relation to their state of health. Medicine started to expand its theory and distance itself from the four humors as a practice in the late 1700s, but the sentiment has carried over into present-day health thinking. If one appears happy, carefree and lighthearted, one is judged to be fine, o.k., doing well and coping well, regardless of any ailment.

Your humor then, flows with your health. It reflects your individual characteristics of joy and happiness expressed in body, mind and soul.


Copyright 2005 by Dan Gascon. Founder of Humor for your health. Reprinted with permission. Reach Dan at

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