Let There Be Light (and Colors)!

One of the aspects of this time of year that I love most is the light. Maryland summers are often swamped with humidity, turning the hot summer sky more white than blue. In winter, we get weeks of unrelenting overcast, but in early spring, the clouds lift, the humidity remains low, the trees aren’t yet leafed out, and the sky–and life–are filled with light. Even more than moderating temperatures, the return of a bright blue sky lifts my spirits and wakes up my mind.

And then there’s the return of color. I’m crazy about spring bulbs, and this is their time to shine. Deep purples, bright yellows, and brilliant combinations abound. Then the flowering trees get into the act, and I’m am inebriated with visual joy.

And I am not the only one. The not-for-profit organization Publicolor uses the task of adding color to schools and public spaces as a means of teaching students skills for school, work, and life. They get terrific results in terms of graduation and promotion rates, but they also hear from principals that after a school has been freshened with bright hues, absenteeism goes down, graffiti stops appearing, and students report feeling safer.

If  you allow prison inmates to watch nature videos in the prison gym, disciplinary incidents decrease. If you give them a window so they can actually see the green and natural world, the rate of anti-depressant use drops by double digits (which doesn’t happen if all they get to see is the basketball court).

If you keep around you objects and images that visually represent your triumphs and accomplishments–graduation day pics, a diploma or award, your mentor beaming at the camera with you when you were nominated for some honor--you will be more resilient to stress.

According to a study done by Taskworld, if you work in a bright, colorful office space full of blues and greens and enlivened with some red and yellow, you are more likely to feel (and be) friendly, alert, efficient, and confident. Add some green plants, and productivity goes up even more. Go back to cubicle-hot-desk-open-plan gray and biege, and particularly for women, the result will be a sense of gloom and sadness. Men don’t thrive on those tones either, and the guys also aren’t so keen on purple or orange. White walls are a bad choice too, giving off a sterile, clinical vibe.

The point is, our visual environment has a tremendous impact on us even when we think we’re not noticing it. What you regard as a minor self-indulgence–some pictures, a bouquet of carnations, sprinkles on an ice cream cone–can make a significant difference in your mood and energy.  The same is true in reverse. The drab school hallways, grim prisons, dull offices, and boring nursing homes are stealing joy in the name of saving a buck. When joy is as close as a can of paint or a spray of flowers, I think that’s a false economy.

What are your happy colors and how do you keep them front and center where you spend your time? Are there places you’d love to take a paintbrush to? To one commenter, I’ll send a SIGNED copy of When a Duchess Says I Do.

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38 comments on “Let There Be Light (and Colors)!

  1. 1
    Mary T says:

    You have perfectly pegged my feelings about Spring. I love sitting on my porch (with a hot cup of coffee or tea) this time of year and soaking it all in.

    I love when the colors come back. I have always loved flowers too. I have also always had one or two cats, so I have never been able to keep real plants or cut flowers inside. They glory in tearing them apart and dragging the remnants back to show me what a good job they have done (smile). So, I have silk flowers all over my house because I love color and I love flowers. And that way I can have them all year long. Happy Spring!

  2. 2
    Susan Gorman says:

    I love pink, yellow and blue! I am adding color this week by switching out my dishtowels and bathroom towels with Spring colors.
    A bouquet of tulips brightens my kitchen table.
    And a new floral scarf adds color and texture to my work outfits.
    I am so excited to see the sun shining!
    I would love to paint my kitchen yellow- a light yellow. I would think of sunshine every day!

    • 2.1

      I grew up in a house with a yellow kitchen, and supposedly yellow houses sell most quickly. Woulda thought? I like your dishtowel idea–maybe that’s the real reason for having dish towels?

  3. 3
    Make Kay says:

    I love blues and greens. I have to admit, I hadn’t thought about trying to bring more color to my workplace. Now I’m going to have to consider that!

  4. 4
    Teenie Marie says:

    I love many colors but my favorites are yellow, red, pink and green. I wear a lot of red and my living and dining room walls are pale yellow.

    My kitchen is a light shade of pink; we painted it that color about five years after we bought this house and it’s made a HUGE difference. It makes the room (no matter the time of year or weather)quite bright and cheery.

    I use difference shades of green as accents throughout the house too–did you ever notice that green does with (almost)anything?

    Those colors make me happy–and the rest of my family too!

    • 4.1

      Green does go with almost anything. One of my fave combination is purple and green with touches of an accent–peach or yellow, a dash of red. Almost anything goes with purple and green too (black, not so much).

  5. 5
    Brenda says:

    SPRING=COLOR=ME=HAPPY.Yes it’s here hopefully.Energised and ready to go,I spent this afternoon in the garden weeding and turning the soil ,sweeping all the winter mess away.It felt great to see all the spring flowers in their colourful dresses.On parade and showing us the first act of the show.Part one Spring part two Summer,I’ve left my winter blues behind.Soon I will be going through my wardrobe and getting my colourful and bright clothes out.I might even buy new.(perhaps it would be wise to wait a bit English weather is not reliable!!).Still it’s a marvellous event.My thoughts though go out for those people in Africa suffering the aftermath of the cyclone that destroyed their homes and killed so many men women and children.We must help if we can.

  6. 6
    Pamela Duarte says:

    Our family doctor just moved to offices consolidated with other physicians and services from their network. The new offices are housed in a former supermarket – a huge, nondescript space. Very institutional, very unappealing, with pale colors. I would love to take a paintbrush to the walls and turn the space into a joyous environment. Going to the doctor is not necessarily a positive experience and being in the space as it is now, just adds to the stress.

    • 6.1

      You should tell them that. There’s probably an Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop that would take on the painting, or high school students looking for community service hours. If nothing else, bring ’em a fichus… That work environment is stressful for the employees too.

  7. 7
    Lynn B says:

    Blue, green and yellow are my happy colors. I like yellow for a background with blue and green accents. I particularly feel joyful when I look at colors that are a mixture of blue and green.I love hand crafted items. When I worked in an office I used to always personalize my space with blue and green hand crafted items-vases, bowls,paintings,etc. This is the same way I decorate my house. I have brightly colored quilts and paintings of ocean scenes on my walls. I surround myself with hand crafted glass items and ceramics. Most have colors that are a mixture of blue and green as not surprisingly that is my favorite section of the color spectrum.. They just make me feel happy looking at them. I even usually dress in these colors. We are semi-retired and in the process of downsizing. My brightly decorated house is being turned into a palate of grey and white. Grey has never been a favorite color of mine but I have been told this is what sells. So for now grey it is.

    • 7.1

      That’s funny–gray sells? Or does gray signal, “This house waiting to be personalized…” In either case, I hope you get back to a space you can tailor to fit your whim soon. Gray? GRAY? Really?

  8. 8
    Carol Wagner says:

    Moving from the Midwest at 43, I found Arizona’s blue skies and bright winter sunlight a revelation. Instead of “denning” through the winter darkness, I was energized, active and productive all year. Desert cacti, trees and plants were evergreen with brilliant blooms following the winter rains. Retirement three years ago has allowed us to split our year, spending May through October in the Midwest enjoying vibrant colors of three seasons before we flee back to our brilliant desert light and color. I was surprised to learn how much that light improved my life, but I cherish the energy and appreciate the joy it brings to every day.

    • 8.1

      My parents both lived into their nineties in San Diego, and climate FOR SURE had a lot to do with their happy golden years. Maybe it’s the vitamin D, maybe it’s ALWAYS being able to go outside, maybe it’s that you see happy, active people when you go outside, but that was a great place to grow old. My brother in Santa Fe seems on track for all the same blessings.

  9. 9
    Diane Sallans says:

    While the majority of my house is gray & white, I do love pops of color. I have an open kitchen/dining/tv area. The one large wall of the dining area is painted ‘razzle dazzle raspberry’ with that same bright color into the small hallway to my bath & bedroom. I also have pretty big windows to let the light in & show all the green outside.

    • 9.1

      I love raspberry and I love to wear it. My house is little and chopped up, wall-wise, but maybe some day I will be in a simpler space that lets me pop some raspberry too!

  10. 10
    Florine Kreeb says:

    Hi. Here in Charlotte all the spring colors are bursting out. Violet, pinkpeonies, lilac bushes,lavender. I could go on and on. My back porch is screened in and I try to bring those colors inside so we can enjoy them after the dull, rainy winter we’ve had. Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina right now!! Florine

    • 10.1

      I have been through Charlotte in springtime, and gadzooks! It’s like the Augusta National Golf Course during the Master’s. Flowering trees and bulbs, azalea heaven, lush grass… mighty pretty corner of the world. I do wonder about allergies there though.

  11. 11
    Martha E Champion says:

    I like red for walls as an accent. All my other walls are white/creme but my hallway and staircase are a deep crimson. It really pops. I have lots of plants to bring in the outdoors. I have big windows to bring in the light. I’m not fond of yellow but I’m a natural blonde (going white) and it does not look elegant as a background. White walls might be bad but they have pictures of dragons, broadway posters, lots of family pictures in period costume, and artwork that pleases my sense of whimsy.

    • 11.1

      My mom’s house in San Diego was all off-white walls, but like you, she used that as her canvas, and splashed all sorts of art, carved birds, plants, and paintings against the plain backdrop. Her house was lovely. You walked in and just went, “Ahhhhh.” Of course, a 270-degree view of the ocean kinda helped.

  12. 12
    Celeste Meehan says:

    I’ve always loved bold and pastel colors, and have decorated my homes with them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve used more neutral backgrounds, but still lots of bright color in the furnishings. Sterile environments, or very dark colors in large doses, unnerve me. I need florals and bold prints to feel at home, to feel happy and alive. Seasonal decorations are used indoors and outside. I also keep pots of flowering plants on my porch, and my gardens have flowering trees and plants most of the year. I wish I had the talent to paint, because Monet would be my inspiration. As it is, I like to take photos of flowers, butterflies, etc., and often use an App called Waterlogue to give them a watercolor effect. Spring has sprung, and soon I’ll be in my element, adding more color to our lives.

  13. 13
    Glenda M says:

    I love the colors of spring – especially the bright wildflowers mixed in with the green grasses! The first colors are the blue bonnets mixed with the coral indian paintbrushes. As the weather warms, so do the colors and we get yellows and oranges of sunflowers, black-eyed Susan’s, and Mexican Hats. We also get the occasional field of red poppies. The blend of colors are my happy colors. I have silk wild flowers both in the office at the store and at home. I try to rotate the flowers with the seasons, adding in poinsettas in winter but sometimes when life gets busy I’m not so great about changing us the flowers.

    • 13.1

      I’m writing a story now where an English bluebell wood figures in several important scenes, and so I’ve put a bluebell wood on the writing computer as my screen saver. I love it. I turn the computer on in the morning, and get a little dose of happy.

  14. 14
    Diane Bowden says:

    I keep my happy colors on my finger with two rings–one of peridot and one of sapphire both set in sterling. Blue and green have been my favorite colors since childhood, grass and sky, trees and lakes, peridot and sapphire.

    • 14.1

      We have other votes for blue and green on this thread, but it hadn’t occurred to me to do them in the real-deal ‘jewel’ tones. I bet those are gorgeous rings.

  15. 15
    Stephanie Smedes says:

    What wonderful insights in this article. It has really made me re-think the colors of my home, which is all done with whites, and beiges. I am lucky in that I live in Hawaii, and can open the curtains to see a blue sky and bits of the ocean. Even with that, though, this article is making me think it is time for a change to brighter drapery, and at least one wall in my living room needs to have a bright color to it… Maybe a pretty teal or a blue-toned lavender!!!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s so wonderful to hear that schools are beginning to realize that color can make a difference also.

    • 15.1

      We hear everything schools are doing wrong, or everything being done wrong to school, but there are reasons to rejoice. If you look at the whole Publicolor picture–how they mentor students over a long period, teach both academic and vocational skills, and improve academic outcomes by huge margins–those are some powerful cans of paint!

  16. 16
    Sharyn McKee says:

    Peach is my happy color, my bedroom and bathroom are peach, as is about 1/3 of my clothes. (I also will eat almost anything that is peach flavor, especially peach pie

  17. 17
    Cassie Pennington says:

    HI Grace. We are just going into Autumn here in Australia so enjoying the last of the summer blooms in my garden. I love reds, yellows and pinks in my garden but I have all sorts growing including my vege patch which continues to supply me with vegetables I love to eat but not quite as colourful.

  18. 18
    Jennifer says:

    I am not much of an outdoor person. Where we live it hits triple digits in the summer. Right now we have has some beautiful weather. I have developed a love for cruising. My husband and I have decided to try and do a cruise a year or every other year. It is a wonderful way to travel and see other countries or places.

  19. 19
    Hillary DiGiorgio says:

    I Love your enthusiasm for gardening. I wish I was better at it. I have 17 acres and mow only about 6 acres (with a lawn tractor!). I started planing a space to prepare a nice vegetable garden. Hopefully this year I will be successful!

  20. 20
    Jo Payne-Pierce says:

    I love the color yellow as my favorite, but I love all colors. My favorite flowers are bulbs. Any bloom that comes from a bulb is beautiful. In fact my wedding dress was yellow. I’m such a pale person that white doesn’t look good on me. I play when traveling, when entertaining, playing dress-up with my big hats, when playing Texas 42, when taking care of my grand girls, when fishing, and when I’m in my swing on my back porch soaking up the beauty of God.

  21. 21
    Jo Payne-Pierce says:

    I love spring!!! All of nature in the Northern Hemisphere is coming back to life. 42 years ago I was pregnant and felt so at one with nature. Everything was having babies, and so was I!!! I really can’t explain the deep feelings that made me so content, peaceful, and full of joy. April 4, I will be celebrating that feeling all over again as I celebrate my son’t birthday.

  22. 22
    Denise Whelan says:

    My colors are in the library! That’s my absolute favorite place in the world to be. The best part, it’s open all year long! I’m happy to be able to travel to different time periods, and galaxies, all from the comfort of my own home! My other joy is doing crafts, of a couple of different kinds. Latchhook kits and making wishing wells and chairs out of clothespins and baby food jars.

  23. 23
    Alla Levkov says:

    Hi Grace, what a wonderful article on colors. I grow african violets and my favorites are dark violet, bright pink and palest blue with green veins. It some pint my cubicle sported 16 booming plants. Even in the dry computer environment one could find place for colors.
    P.S. I love your books, read almost all of them and cheering you on! Alla