Feelin’ melancholic

Long way back I read a book which spoke of four types of personality. Nowadays we recognise five broad trait dimensions or domains, sometimes called the “Big Five”: Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neurotic-ism, and Openness. The 1960’s book wasn’t to blame for only choosing four since even longer back people talked of four elemental substances, such as earth, water, air, and fire. Especially the ancient Greeks, and they had some pretty good ideas.

But regardless – a personality type of ‘melancholic’ was one of the four types and these types of people were meant to be more prone to moodiness, feelings and deep thoughts.

I reject this now. My whole life experience suggests that instead of general types of people and categories into which they fall, that rather everyone has umpteen dimensions and lies in a spectrum along each of those. So I may be good at one thing and bad at another, while my neighbour is average at both. The point being that there is hundreds, if not thousands of these dimensions and everyone has them in different quantities and qualities. Understanding people through a lens of a specific type is almost as useless as handwriting analysis, which simply tells you that the writer is a person with human features – and yes, I read lot of books about that as well before realising that just speaking to someone for five minutes would reveal far more than hours of looking at their handwriting.

So when I ‘feel’ melancholy I associate it with a certain type of mood, or a combined feeling of warmth, wonder, content and amazement at things. I know that the word is meant to evoke deep feelings of gloom and pervasive sense of impending event, but I associate those more with depression and a lack of ‘agency’, or the ability to impact my own existence. I think some Heidegger, Sartre, or perhaps just plain Thoreau would be good at this part!

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