Why Am I Obsessed with the Subject of Beautiful Colors?

Why Am I Obsessed with the Subject of Beautiful Colors?

Periodically, I get obsessed with subjects.  And nothing makes me happier than a new obsession! It's energizing and exciting.

Sometimes, this obsession leads to a book—like The Happiness Project or Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill. Sometimes it stays a private obsession—like my obsession with beautiful scents.

Sometimes the subject is a big, obvious subject, like the subject of habits in Better Than Before, or sometimes it's more obscure, like my long obsession with the question "Why do people destroy their own possessions?" which became the book Profane Waste.

It's a wonderful, mysterious feeling to become wildly interested in something new. A new part of the world lights up for me, a previously ignored section of my beloved library becomes familiar, I have a new way to connect with people, and my bookshelves start to fill up (which is a mixed blessing).

Now, why am I so intrigued with the subject of color? No idea.

I know the minute my obsession started. On our podcast Happier, in episode 71, Elizabeth and I suggested the try-this-at-home of "Choose a signature color," which sparked so much response that in episode 75, we did a deep dive into color. I got hooked.

However, despite my fascination with the subject of color—or perhaps because of it—I haven't been able to choose a signature color (though I think if I did, it would be purple).

I love reading about color, taking notes on color, looking at color. It's so much fun, it's a great treat.

Oddly, it's a treat that also feels like more work. I spend time doing research and taking notes, which is "fun" but is also a busman's holiday. I also feel obligated to do my reading, so instead of picking up a novel I'm dying to read, say, I think "I really need to spend some time this afternoon reading about color."

Of course this sense of obligation is completely self-imposed. As George Orwell wrote in the brilliant book The Road to Wigan Pier, “But what is work and what is not work?  Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles?  All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody.  There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them.”

Or as Tom Sawyer put it more succinctly, in Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and...Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do."

But why is color my Play? I'm extremely un-visual, so perhaps part of my pleasure comes from tapping into an underused aspect of my existence—as I did with the sense of smell.

And the writing about it! Much of it is extremely dry, but some of it is beautiful and thought-provoking. In the end, no matter how tied something may be to the physical senses, I still can only appreciate things through reading.

"All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red. I can never get painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I’d said, ‘I want rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple’—they have no idea what I’m talking about. About the best red is to copy the color of a child’s cap in any Renaissance portrait." -- Diana Vreeland

“If you cover a surface in red; where is the surface now? Under the red? Over it? The red itself?" --Bernard Cohen

“Colors must have a mystical capacity for spiritual expression, without being tied to objects.” --Johannes Itten

"The fact is, that, of all God’s gifts to the sigh of man, colour is the holiest, the most divine, the most solemn…the purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most.”  --John Ruskin (a bit self-congratulatory on my part!)

"I knew a wise guy who used to make fun of my painting, but he didn’t like the Abstract Expressionists either. He said they would be good painters if they could only keep the paint as good as it is in the can. And that’s what I tried to do. I tried to keep the paint as good as it was in the can.” -- Frank Stella

I've learned new words, like "ombre."  I have a much greater appreciation for painting.  I've learned some odd history—like the existence of killer wallpaper. My love of color has given me an excuse to buy giant sets of fine colored markers and pencils. It has given me something new in common with a few of my friends whom I've discovered, to my surprise, are also color-obsessed.

I realize that just as a romance usually fades out or ends in marriage, probably my love of color will abruptly burn itself out or turn into a book (I already have a title picked out: "My Color Pilgrimage."). Who knows? I'm just trying to enjoy this beautiful, beautiful obsession for as long as it lasts.

If you have any suggestions for books I should read, paintings I should look at, movies I should watch, websites to follow, articles to read, or anything else, I'd love to hear them. I've received so many great tips from readers.

Have you ever become intensely interested in a subject? Why? Have you stayed interested for a long time, or have you moved on to other subjects?

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