*When it comes to temperaments, we are never just one. It takes a combination of all the elements to give something life and complexity, so we all have elements of all of them, however we’re going to have much more of some than others. So if you read this and you think ‘this sounds like me but I’m not ENTIRELY like this’, then that’s good because it means you’re a complex human with nuance, not a robot. We usually have one primary temperament, a secondary that influences the first, and then a tertiary that influences the primary two slightly. Depending on who we are, there might be evidence of a fourth and there might not. I, for example, display very little earth/ melancholic characteristics at ALL, however I have surrounded myself with them in my friendships, most likely an attempt to balance myself out! This is one of four basic temperament explanations.
Want to learn more about temperaments? Come to jim mcdonald’s class in LA at the end of January!*
Air as an element:
It’s an easy matter because the gravity of air is so small, but when the winds shift, they do so rapidly and without great thought or effort. It is this lightness that we love air for. Inhale deeply as a breeze carries upon it the smell of orange blossoms on a warm spring day. On that warm breeze comes good tidings, chattering of news, the rustling of grass, and it bolsters you with its good spirits. That breeze picks up, lifting your hair, and how can you not lift your arms up out to the sides and throw your head back with abandon. This is the universal pose of freedom, and it is the air that is in many ways the most free: while other elements have to fight gravity, inertia, lack of fuel, the air is unencumbered by the solidity that inhibits movement. The air can move as it pleases, when it pleases. Freedom.
The air brings good tidings, news from afar, storms, fog, dust clouds. Air is a ripple, a tinkle of laughter. The sound of the air is a great howl as it gusts down from the mountains kicking and uprooting everything in its path. And then it disperses, changes direction with the beat of a butterfly’s wing.
Capture it and it’ll go stale. Hold it in your hands and it will escape between your fingers. Air isn’t made to be held, but interacted with, played with, appreciated for its movement: tip your face to the sun and let it wash over you, breathe deep and let it dance through your body, watch the sunset and appreciate how it bends light to make burst into spectrum, but never try to hold it, for you cannot hold movement.
It is air, with its lightness, that we are dependent on for survival. Air moves through us and interacts with us, carrying to us our oxygen, carrying away from us our waste. It is air that allows the light from the sun to refract through our atmosphere, and it is air with its lightness that butts up against the dense, dark earth as the earth holds strong and the air darts around touching and then dancing away. Sand storms. Sand storms are a momentary emulsification of earth and air, but then the earth returns to its solid state and the air goes back to its teasing. It is light, because it rises, like a sunrise, giving breath and buoyancy to all of us. The air in our lungs keeps us afloat when in a sea of water, and the air in our lungs keeps us steady when being pummeled by life events: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. You can get through this, just breathe. That is what the air has to offer us: our breath, our inspiration.
Air in the personality: meet the sanguine
Air in the personality is like air in the world: quick, changeable, light, exciting, open.
Sanguines are full of ideas, and quick to grasp concepts. They move quickly, talk quickly, and are very expressive. Look for the sanguine in a classroom: they will be the ones having trouble sitting still and paying attention the whole time, which doesn’t need to be a diagnosis of any kind— they are just not built for spending hours sitting in one place. Like air itself, the sanguine isn’t built for stillness, but to move between things. So where some people can sit and concentrate on one topic for hours, you’ll find the sanguine better off concentrating for smaller amounts of time, and punctuating that concentration with movement, maybe some social time.
This social time is important. Think of the whispering wind; the chattering wind. Conversations and interpersonal communication are a sanguine’s currency and lifeblood, and if you isolate a sanguine for too long, they will start to wither away and lose their glow. Making friends with strangers is a great sanguine skill*: they pick up friends like its the easiest thing in the world, and genuinely like people. You put the sanguine in a party and they think ‘oh yay more friends’ (whereas for the rest of us this can bring up different degrees of dread, or a networking opportunity), and they’ll most likely be the life of any party they go to. Sanguines often find themselves behaving differently around different types of people. It’s not them being fake, but that they are malleable, so each person will pull out a different side of the sanguine’s personality.
Don’t mistake this changeability with duplicity, or the quickness with lack of intensity. Sanguines feel things strongly, it’s just that they might feel something very strongly and then later feel something else very strongly. So, for example, they might cry over something, and then forget about it later. Similarly with opinions and tastes: it’s not that the sanguine is unreliable in opinion, but where many of us cling to our convictions because we identify with them, the sanguine is perfectly capable of re-assessing their opinion on something, and even changing it. This is often because the sanguine doesn’t naturally think things through extensively: they’re often too busy moving on to the next thought. Presenting them with another point of view allows them to re-analyse their position and often changing their original one as a result of the new information or perspective. Depending on the secondary constitution, you’ll find this happening more or less frequently.
The sanguine gets energy from revelry: some good music, good conversation, laughter, staying up till the wee hours of the morning. It will fuel them for weeks to come: they thrive on the joy and lightness of it all. That light, giggling, joyful revelry is a place of comfort, and while they can (and do) exist in other places (like serious topics, grief, loss, disappointment), they need to get back there to feel like themselves. This isn’t the same as avoidance of the ‘dark’ in life. Pasting on a bright smile and blasting everyone with ‘love and light’ isn’t sanguine, it’s delusional. I’m talking about a lightness of spirit that’s inherent, that isn’t necessarily afraid of heaviness, but doesn’t feel at its most comfortable dwelling there. Much like a melancholic is most comfortable when thinking about all the possibilities of what could go wrong, the sanguine is most comfortable thinking about what could go right. The melancholic state helps us avoid failure and pain; the sanguine state helps us hold onto hope. Careful how you go trying to balance that out: a little ‘reality’ is good, but too much will dampen their spirits or make them feel as though you’re trying to change them.
All of this acting, and being the center of attention, leaves the sanguine little room for self-reflection. Their ability to pull other people into their revelry can leave a melancholic feeling embarrassed about the things they’ve done and revealed, because they are prone to more self-reflection. Whereas the sanguine just carries on, generally not that concerned. It’s a form of freedom, that lack of self-reflection: to be able to interact socially without feeling self-conscious is a sanguine trait. Because of this, sanguines make great performers. It’s that freedom thing— the freedom of air, the lack of gravity and solid substance that allows it to shift and change and be whatever it wants. You’ll find sanguines the least likely to set habits or stick to them. They often like trying new things, like hearing new concepts, and will often try anything at least once. There is an immense freedom in this— of not being restricted by pre-judgements and preconceived notions. I know a sanguine who looks at the world as a series of questions. In a world of people to whom an opinion is the mark of being a well educated and strong-minded person, to have someone willing to ask questions, not because they lack the strength of conviction, but because they have the strength to not *need* conviction, is a beautiful and inspiring thing. Try to see the world through the eyes of someone who hasn’t decided that they know all the answers, and you’ll find, if you’re lucky, that freedom rubs off on you a bit, so that you, too, start to ask questions and feel ok with not knowing. It’s an exploration, an adventure.
This air of exploration is how the sanguine approaches life. Just as air molecules fill a space, and dart around corners, the sanguine explores, inquires, and expands. When they meet new people, they’re genuinely interested. They love trying new restaurants, new places, new hiking trails, new people.
Which isn’t to say that the sanguine isn’t capable of commitment. Of course they are. Some of the happiest married people I know are sanguines, but in their marriages they usually have opportunity to go out and enjoy some revelry on occasion. It doesn’t need to be an excessive thing: going out once a week or every two weeks with your friends, having a couple of drinks (if you drink) and a dance (if you dance), maybe playing some music (if you play an instrument) or chatting with a group of people late into the night is just the thing. I’d also like to clarify that this isn’t the same as ‘partying’. It’s not that the sanguine needs to go out and get wasted or go and hook up with strangers, or do anything illicit. It’s the shared joy, laughter, and chat experience that the sanguine feeds on. Freedom to revel is not the same as freedom from commitment, and in many cases it is the grounding nature of a home and family that gives the sanguine the stability he needs to be himself in the world. I’ll say this again for emphasis: a sanguine, balanced out by a grounding and stable influence in a relationship or family, can truly flourish: that grounding influence allows the sanguine to scatter, revel, explore, connect and chat, and then with a gentle tug can pull him back down to earth again.
The flip-side to all this freedom is that without a grounding and calming influence, the sanguine can become erratic and ungrounded. They can start to fear the things that balance them out— relationships, commitment, stability— and they can get really, well, annoying. An imbalanced sanguine will interrupt you constantly to talk (usually about themselves), or come from the left field with random statements that hold no bearing on the conversation at hand. Their desire to be the center of attention can lead them to act out, to say wilder and wilder things, and their tendency away from self-reflection can make them look incredibly egotistical. They love attention (never minding that others might have been enjoying their quiet conversation), and this lack of self-reflection means they don’t notice that others aren’t as enthused about their company as they assume they are. Erratic, ungrounded behaviour, with more chattering, is the first sign that a sanguine is stressed and getting out of balance. Some structure, safety and stability goes a long way it helping balance a sanguine out (as do some nervines: lemon balm, passiflora, milky oat).
Think of the relief of the gravedigger scene in the middle of Hamlet: a moment of levity surrounded by heaviness. Or the court jester, come to entertain and draw the laughter out. Lifting spirits, easing burdens, their lightness of being affects everyone around them. Light as a quality can be that which makes things visible; it can be a form of buoyancy, or lack of heaviness. It can be an understanding, as in ‘seeing the light’, or illumination. Illumination itself can be the drawings in a manuscript or enlightenment itself— the drawings being imagery, and the opposite of linear, safe, stable numbers and graphs. It is the right brain and the spark of inspiration in all of us. Enlightenment and awareness: head-centric things, and the enlightenment itself something often depicted as a halo around the head, eyes turned upwards in open understanding. The gift of the sanguine is that light, that revelry. The ability to ease the spirits of those around them with a burst of laughter, a giggle, a tinkling sound that dispels stagnation, breaks up the heaviness, and reminds us all of the joy and beauty in life if we could only just lift our faces to the breeze and open our eyes.
In balance, the sanguine is a true delight to be around: witty, fun, outgoing, charming, charismatic, the sanguine is at his best in a social situation where he can be surrounded by people having fun.
Charming, outgoing, naturally friendly, sanguines make others feel at ease.
Naturally open-minded, a balanced sanguine is curious and accepting of others.
This open-mindedness leads them to ask questions that others don’t think to ask: having a sanguine around keeps things moving in an exploratory fashion.
Generous: their generosity of spirit, of time, with their resources, can be totally astounding.
Out of balance:
Think of air when it’s destructive: a tornado, a hurricane, a sandstorm. A sanguine, when out of balance, can be like a tornado hitting a space, disrupting everything in it, and never quite aware of the impact they’re having.
Chatting excessively: they will talk about themselves for an hour giving you little chance to interject (and if you do they’ll quickly swing the conversation back around to themselves).
The need to be the center of attention can mean they’ll do crazier and crazier things.
Substance abuse and partying to excess.
Inability to commit to or focus on anything.
Starting projects but never finishing them.
What to know if you are a sanguine:
Wait to speak. It will feel like its killing you at first, but you’ll find it displays a level of sensitivity that most people are unaccustomed to from you and they’ll be pleasantly surprised and in turn trust you more.
Understand that while you love excess, it might not always be good for you: allow yourself to have it, but temper it with things that require your sobriety and focus. Like a job you love or a family you’re committed to, or strong friendships.
You might never be able to focus on things for long periods of time like, say, a melancholic-choleric can. That’s ok, you’ve just got to work with your own tendencies. If you’ve got a big project you want to get done, split it up into small, digestible parts and tackle them separately, for shorter periods of time.
Some people might come across to you as pessimistic, but understand that they most likely just look at the world a different way. Where you feel more comfortable focusing on what could go right (like a guidepost for where to go), some prefer to focus on what could go wrong (like a guidepost for what to avoid). It’s the difference between looking at the lines at the side of the road, or the road itself. They’re not trying to ‘bring you down’, that’s just how they move through life.
What to know if you have a sanguine in your life:
You might be one of many good friends but when you are with your sanguine and you’re having fun, you’re likely her favourite. It’s not personal that there are other people, it’s that, if it’s happening in the present, your sanguine is experiencing it and has likely forgotten the existence of other friends at the time.
They might be very easy-going but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to walk all over them or that they necessarily enjoy being told what to do all the time.
Because they themselves don’t often take things personally, they can sometimes say things that come across as insensitive.
They might seem overly optimistic, and you might want to given them warnings about things that could go wrong, but be careful of doing this too much because it will dampen their spirits.
Optimism is not stupidity.
*a sanguine friend of mine called my house and I wasn’t home. My outgoing message has a generic ‘please leave a message’ message, and said sanguine friend left a ten minute voicemail on why two creative people should have a more creative outgoing message. Except it wasn’t our house, it was some other dude in West Hollywood, who called sir sanguine back, very confused. They chatted for 45 minutes. Sanguine has a new friend to visit in West Hollywood next time he visits. This is a sanguine story.