How Do We See the Living Soul of the World? Through Color.

“Light, that first phenomenon of the world, reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors.”

–Johannes Itten, The Elements of Color

My color obsession continues! What a beautiful, fascinating subject. I just finished a book about green–that’s right, a whole book about green. I recently finished a book about black. Next up, blue.

Do you have a signature color? I was vexed by my inability to commit, but I’ve realized that the color wheel is my signature colorscape.

  • Katie Thatcher

    I love your commitment to a topic! We spent one semester in design school devoted to color and light. All of your recent posts and discussions of color have me pulling out my old textbooks and thinking about why I know what I know when I look at color. Understanding color, undertone, and light is the bulk of how I help people in my design practice. The root of all paint and fabric problems and solutions can be found with the color wheel and the understanding of undertone and light.
    Thank you for your great work! I love it all!
    – Katie

  • AliB

    Hello Gretchen – I have not been to your website for a while – colour – yes, I could get into that as a topic – will look forward to the books.
    However, I am actually here because I’ve just read The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – fabulous story and there was a paragraph that made me immediately think of you (and my difficulties with the whole concept of habits – happiness yes, but habits no – I’m a rebel!) Here it is – I’d love to know what you think – maybe it sums up the rebel viewpoint. Apologies in advance for hijacking a colour post but here goes:
    “Habit is a vain and treacherous goddess. She lets nothing disrupt her rule. She smothers one desire after another: the desire to travel, the desire for a better job or a new love. She stops us from living as we would like, because habit prevents us from asking ourselves whether we continue to enjoy doing what we do.” (p192-3)

    • gretchenrubin

      It’s certainly a beautiful articulation of the anti-habit viewpoint! I disagree profoundly, of course, but that’s because I LOVE habits.

      Gretchen Rubin

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      • AliB

        Yes, it is beautiful, and it does also provide a good reason to change your bad habits too…
        Strangely enough I did a personality colour quiz yesterday which came round on Facebook (I usually try to resist doing such things but this one looked fun) – my colour was green – so I think I may have to read that green book!

    • Gillian

      What a lovely passage!

      I think that habits are really one of the things that Gretchen’s saying “the opposite of a truth is also true” applies to. Good habits can have a very positive effect on our lives by building a sound infrastructure that helps us maintain our health, financial stability, etc. and helps us set our priorities and reduce the amount of daily decision-making needed. That structure of discipline leads to a happier life in many ways.

      However, there is also a negative side, even to good habits, that is beautifully expressed in the passage quoted by AliB. They can gradually dig a rut into our lives. The routine and discipline built around these good habits can make it very difficult to change our lives, leading to less spontaneity and adventure.

      On the other hand, perhaps the problems attributed to the restrictions imposed by habit are really more a result of personality type. Either one is prone to being restricted by routine and habit, not finding the energy to jump out of the rut, or one is prone to spontaneity and adventure which would make the development of good habits very difficult.

      I so envy the people who can do both – exercise the necessary discipline and live spontaneously and joyfully.

      • AliB

        Dear Gillian – very well put! There are two sides to every story – we all need good habits and we all need some help breaking out of bad habits. And we all change – I guess the guy in the book had found that his habits were no longer helping him – he needed to break free and find a new way – and probably some new habits!

  • Jean Marie

    What was the book about green? (My apologies if you’ve mentioned it before and I didn’t notice.)

    And if you need another color book recommendation , might I suggest Mauve: how one man invented a color that changed the world?

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m working my way through the single-color books…Mauve is on the list! The book I just finished, and loved, is GREEN by Michel Pastoureau. Going to the library later, in fact, to check out BLUE.

      Gretchen Rubin

      Visit my blog

      My podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin
      My books:Better Than Before —New York Times bestseller
      The Happiness Project —#1 New York Times bestseller
      Join the discussion on Facebook @gretchenrubin

  • Gillian

    I love colour but don’t really have a signature colour. I like Gretchen’s notion that the whole colour wheel is her signature.

    In the past, I’ve been through phases – a rusty orange phase, a purple phase. At the moment, I could say that my colour signature is red. I’ve just bought a red kettle and a red counter-top convection oven. Three years ago I went shopping for a rain jacket. I was looking for navy blue. There was a nice navy one in my size. Perfect. But beside it on the rack was a bright red one that kept catching my eye. Just for fun, I tried it on. What a difference! It made me look so much better. I couldn’t resist it so I bought it. It is still my favourite article of clothing. Recently, a good friend told me how good I look in that jacket. When it wears out, I’ll probably be looking for another red one.

    My least favourite colour is pink – don’t want to wear it and don’t want it in my home. I don’t know why but it just makes me uncomfortable. And I don’t care for pastel shades of any colour.

  • Tara R

    Are color preferences innate or learned? My guess would be learned, since color signifies different meanings for different cultures and our preferences can change over time…Which makes me wonder if there is anything about color that is shared by everyone, or do we each experience color uniquely?