How Colour Affects Happiness

In recent weeks two of my favorite happiness gurus, Gretchen Rubin Margaret Manning been discussing colour and its effect on happiness.

Their comments prompted a new recognition of the importance of colour in my life. I am a visual learner and heavily dependent on pictures, mind maps, graphs and other visual cues as primary information sources. Seeing images and imagining various colours attracts my attention.


Colours affect happiness -- photo courtesy of Leisey Vidal on Unsplash
Colours affect happiness -Photo courtesy of Leisey Vidal on Unsplash


As a child I loved drawing with crayons and coloured pencils. As a teenager, I learned to sew which allowed an indulgence in beautifully coloured fabrics. As I began to earn money I gave free rein to my fascination with beautiful printed and paisley clothes in colours I loved.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that my real colour ‘pilgrimage’ began. I had my ‘colours’ done! A professional consultation taught me that I was wrong in choosing brown and gold and beige as basic wardrobe colours.  I had chosen these colours based on my olive skin and deep brown eyes. What a wake-up call!

My consultation showed unmistakably that I needed to wear clear bright vivid colours along with pure white or black. Learning that my skin and hair and eyes affected the colour of clothing I should wear changed my outlook. I pitched the brown skirts, tan shoes, and beige sweaters.  I opted for silver jewellery (but was not so stupid as to throw out genuine gold pieces!), black purses, and lots of bluish red accessories. Knowing which colours to buy streamlined shopping as I could pass over many items simply based on inappropriate colour.

I subsequently trained as a colour consultant and opened a small business where I helped women and men to understand their colour ‘season’ based on skin undertones and eye colour.  Colour Seasons are based on Carole Jackson’s book Color Me Beautiful.  Jackson used the four seasons — winter, spring, summer, and autumn — to classify skin undertone and recommend flattering colours for clothing, makeup, jewellery, eyeglasses, and accessories.

I’ve long since moved past the chapter of my life as a colour consultant but I continue to notice colours that people choose to wear and whether or not these colours are appropriate for skin tone.  Choice of colour tells a story. When someone wears a colour that compliments their skin and hair, it makes the man or woman stand out.  When a colour choice is obviously wrong, the person looks washed out and tired.

Colours Affect Moods

Colours affect moods and emotions. We’ve all experienced the grey mood that comes along with overcast skies. When my hair began to turn grey, I was cautious about wearing grey coloured clothing.  Unless I used bright accessories, grey washed out my natural colouring. My mood was often as dismal as the drab grey colour of clothing I wore.

Colours can stimulate. Reds, oranges, and yellows are ‘warm’ colours that energize while blues, greens, and purples promote calmness. Blue is often associated with melancholy as in a ‘blue’ mood, while green can promote feelings of renewal as in the greening of the world in spring.

The colours we wear also communicate feelings. Wearing colourful clothing  increases happiness and general well-being. Wearing black, navy, brown, grey or olive green are safe choices — but isn’t red or orange or turquoise more fun? Monochromatic colours have a place but choosing a variety of colours provides energy and confidence.

Marketers, industrial designers, interior decorators, and art therapists know that colour can alter emotional and mental states. Yogis identify each of the seven body chakras (energy centers) with a colour. House painters know that certain colours influence how people will use a room. Restaurants notoriously use red decor to stimulate appetite and encourage eating. Most of us feel more relaxed in a darkened room.

Feelings about colours vary from person to person. Colour perceptions are subjective as they invoke emotions burned deeply into our brains. In ancient times Egyptians believed that certain colours had healing properties.

Children notice colour and respond to it. When I spend time with my four-year-old granddaughter, I’m charmed with her frequent exclamations about colour.  When observing an object or piece of clothing, one of the first descriptive exclamations will involve colour.  “Pink is my favourite colour!” “I just love purple!” “Yellow is also my favourite colour!’ “Red is mommy’s favourite colour!” Interestingly black, grey and white illicit few, if any, comments.

Most people feel happier when skies are a bright blue accompanied with abundant sunshine. In the Northern Hemisphere, many suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is associated with short periods of daylight and long nights.  Regardless of whether it’s full-blown SAD, deprivation of sunshine coupled with weeks of dull skies results in sleepiness, grumpiness, irritability and low energy. It’s no surprise that Canadians frequently complain about winter weather.

Colours often have a personal meaning.  In Western culture, black is traditionally associated with mourning and funerals.  Wearing black may be a reminder of death. Brides wear white as a symbol of purity. Pink is regarded as a dainty feminine colour connected with baby girls while pale (baby) blue is linked to boys.

In a diverse country such as Canada, the cultural context of colour must be understood. Some ethnic communities regard red or white as the colour of mourning.  A different colour represents each day of the week in some traditions.

Sometimes people, especially women, choose a signature colour for clothing.  It’s often a colour with personal meaning as well as a colour that promotes confidence.  Men who are confined to business suits will often choose a signature colour for ties and add a bit of whimsy with colourful socks. Signature colours can be used for wardrobe staples or to develop consistency in clothing choices. A signature colour can become strongly associated with you — almost like a personal brand.

I’ve often been asked if I have a signature colour.  Like my grand-daughter, I love all the colours too much so I don’t have a signature colour. Clear, vivid clothing colours always attract. I love a neutral palette for the walls of my home especially in rooms where deep pure colours of rugs or artwork provide interesting contrasts. As a knitter, I prefer projects that use brightly coloured yarns, especially as I know that I’ll spend hours handling the yarn. I also prefer coloured knitting needles over the plain grey aluminum needles.

Colour provides the benefit of stimulation, especially for older people. Adult colouring books are considered a stimulating and therapeutic activity for all ages. I haven’t tried adult colouring (yet) but it’s touted as relaxing and creative.  The repetitive movements of adult colouring soothe, similar to hobbies like knitting or needlework. Several of my friends have taken up painting with watercolours or oils as retirement hobbies.  They know about mixing paints, about warm and cool colours, and about the hues of a colour.

Thinking about how colour affects happiness offers possibilities for creativity. Having fun with colourful clothes, or with accessories, with colours in our living environment, adds a dimension of self-expression to the postworksavvy lifestyle.  Appreciating the colours in nature allows a new way of seeing the world aroud us.  Although we are grown up and retired, we can still be children at heart and have fun bringing colour into our lives.

Thanks for reading this post. i’m interested in hearing your perspectives about colour by way of a reader comment.  Do you have a signature colour?  Do you adhere to a colour season when making colour choices? Which colour makes you happiest?

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8 Replies to “How Colour Affects Happiness”

  1. Hi Jeanette-I enjoyed this post and totally agree with you about color. I am like you with the olive skin and dark brown eyes and my hair is salt and pepper now. I’ve always considered myself a “winter” and look best with those colors. I won’t buy an article of clothing no matter how much I love it if it’s the wrong color. It just doesn’t do anything for me. I also had some yellow gold jewelry from many years ago in 14k, 18k and even a 21k gold bracelet from Lebanon that I wasn’t wearing any longer because it didn’t look the best on me, along with the fact that it didn’t enhance the clothing colors I was wearing. I went to my jewelers and had those gold pieces dipped (rhodium plated). The same thing they do to white gold jewelry. They came out beautiful and I’m enjoying those pieces of jewelry again. For many years I’ve been only purchasing silver or white gold jewelry. Most recently yellow gold is trending again but I’m sticking with what works best with me. It’s funny because if you read some of those coloring consultants descriptions they say olive skinned means warm colors should be worn. I’m not sure where they’re coming from.

    1. Hi Rose, A big thank you for your note.
      I didn’t know about rhodium plating but I’m going to make inquiries as I know a goldsmith who makes beautiful pieces in his studio in the distillery district of Toronto. I still wear some of my gold jewelry but I’m instinctively drawn to silver pieces as my first choice. ‘Winters’ just don’t sparkle in gold as much as in silver — or diamonds!
      Be well,

  2. In the years since you did my colours I have said many, many times that it was the best thing I ever spent money on. Knowing what my best colours are has served me well. Whether I am buying a lipstick or a blouse, I can avoid mistakes and frustrations. I have steadfastly refused to wear black next to my face ever since. (Try finding a dressy dress that isn’t black sometime.) And, I am a colour fan anyway. If I didn’t say it at the time, thank you for doing my colours all those years ago!

    1. Thanks for your feedback about the colour consultation. I always enjoyed draping people under those bright lights and seeing how different colours changed the look of their skin and eyes.
      Dressy clothes that aren’t black are a challenge. Although it’s 30 plus years ago, I recall a male client who was a ‘summer’. He despaired about ever finding a tuxedo and had one tailor made in a shade of grey. I saw him recently and got a big hug. He told me he takes his faithful tux on cruises every year and gets many compliments!
      Be well,

  3. Jeanette,
    Thanks for writing about color. I too had my colors done in the 1980s and rely on my cloth color swatches to this day when choosing new clothes. In winter, I especially notice the effects of sunlight vs overcast on people’s moods. I enjoyed your summaries of color effects and consequences.


    1. Hang on to the swatch book as now they are hard to find; and, yes, those swatches help to choose clothes in colours that make us happy! I’m also aware of how weather affects moods. Most of the time I try to rise above the dreariness of overcast winter days but sometimes I give in and decide it’s okay to hibernate and have a low energy day!
      Be well,

  4. Bonnie Parkins says: Reply

    Interesting, Jeanette! I have a comment about colour “theories” — sometimes they can paralyze! I’m new to the world of painting, and I’m learning a lot about people’s attitudes toward the art in their homes. Some people have the idea that a painting has to “go” with their colour scheme and forego a piece of art they love because it’s not what they consider a “match” for their decor. What a shame! Just a change of attitude would toss that rule out the door! And I know a textile artist who had used her own imagination and innate sense of colour for years in her lovely weaving. After going back to art school and getting a degree from OCAD, she effectively stopped producing — afraid to go against all the “rules” about colour she had learned. I think we are born loving colour and are drawn instinctively to what we love. It’s when we take on other’s precriptions (my clothes should be beige to match my skin and eyes) that we give up that joy in colour we had when we were four. Maybe as a colour consultant you just awoke people to that joy — and gave them permission to let go their old rules.

    1. I agree that our instincts can be the best guides to the colours and to the art we love. I’ve always worried that children get ‘taught’ how to create but actually, they learn how to restrict themselves. Whether it’s an admonition to colour between the lines, or to make the sky blue and the clouds white, societal expectations prevail. I’m sad to hear that someone stopped making her textile art because of art school ‘rules’. I hope that doesn’t happen for you as I know how much of yourself you pour onto every canvas. One of the benefits of growing older is that rules don’t matter as much!
      Be well,

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