The Colour File Interview: Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is a global authority on happiness – possibly THE global authority. Author of blockbuster New York Times bestsellers Better Than BeforeThe Happiness Project and Happier at Home, she has an enormous readership, both in print and online, and her books have sold more than two million copies worldwide in more than thirty languages. She also has a podcast with her sister Elizabeth Craft, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, in which they discuss good habits and happiness. She is currently working on a book about colour. Here, she tells The Colour File’s Martha Roberts what colour/color means to her…


Martha:
Can you describe your first colour memory?
Gretchen: I remember being very intrigued by the beautiful and unusual color combinations in Ludwig Bemelmans’s classic picture book, Madeline.

An illustration by Bemelmans from one of the Madeline books

Martha: Do you have a favourite colour and has this changed over the years? It doesn’t have to be one colour – it could be a cluster of colours. For example, mine are pink, green, yellow and purple together.
Gretchen: I can’t pick a signature color! As soon as I choose one, I see another one I love just as much. Maybe my signature color is the rainbow. I love anything like a color chart, color wheel, fan deck, or spectrum.

‘I love anything like a color chart, color wheel, fan deck, or spectrum.’

Martha: What is your favourite colourful object/objects and why?
Gretchen: It’s so hard to choose, but I’d d say the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck. That green, that brown, that red…the gleaming chandelier, the light through the window. Gorgeous. My daughter and I visited it in at The National Gallery in London last summer.

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck

Martha: How does colour make you feel?
Gretchen: Color makes me feel energized—I feel more awake to the world.

Martha: Do you have a colour you could happily do without? For example, although I wouldn’t want the world to be without them, I’m not that keen on ‘autumn’ colours as a palate, probably from being dressed in them so much in the 1970s!
Gretchen: I don’t like neon or fluorescent colors. I could do without all of those.

Martha: What does colour mean to you in your day-to-day life?
Gretchen: For me, color is a way to become more mindful, to tune in to my present experience in a richer way. I tend to live in my head and walk around without noticing anything. By reminding myself to look for beautiful or interesting colors, I’m able to be more observant, and to register the beauty of the world. Plus I love to read about color.

Martha: Do you think there are rules about colour? Or are rules made to be broken?
Gretchen: I think there are no rules!

Martha: Do you have a colour story or anecdote, be it funny, serious or momentous?
Gretchen: I had never thought much about color. Then, on episode 71 of the Happier podcast, my co-host and sister Elizabeth and I talked about the try-this-at-home suggestion to “Choose a signature color” as a way to boost happiness. Ironically, neither Elizabeth nor I could choose a signature color, but we were flooded with emails and voicemails from people who were passionate about describing their signature colors – and about why their signature color made them so happy. After hearing so much about the pleasures of color, I fell in loved with the subject. In fact, we got such a huge response that we did another episode on color, in episode 75. Once I started researching color, I discovered that there’s a vast library of fascinating material. I got pulled deeper and deeper into this gorgeous subject.

Martha: If you could give people advice about using colour, what would it be?
Gretchen: Pay attention to color. It’s a ubiquitous part of our experience, but if we don’t pay attention, it’s easy not to notice it. (I feel this way about the sense of smell, as well.) When we pay attention, color enriches our experience without any expense, any planning, any collaboration, any calories, or any effort. You can’t bookmark it or save it for later. Experience it now.

Martha: If a colour was named in your honour, what colour would it be and what would it be called
Gretchen: I’d choose the color that’s on the cusp of purple and brown, and it would be called “Library.” For some reason, this color always reminds me of books and reading, and it’s the color that we painted the library in our apartment.

  • Read Gretchen’s blog and watch her podcasts here 
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