Colour conversation with award winning author, Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin is an award-winning American author, blogger and speaker. Her thought-provoking books on habits and happiness have sold more than three million copies worldwide and consistently top The New York Times bestseller lists.

In your books you write about the pursuit of happiness. You have also written a book about colour. Can you tell us about it?

Yes! It’s a little book called My Color Pilgrimage: From Red to Violet and Back Again (your readers will understand the subtitle).

I know exactly when and why my colour pilgrimage began. I have a podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and in episodes 71 and 75 my co-host and sister Elizabeth and I discussed the “Try This at Home” tip to “Choose a signature colour.” I was absolutely astounded by the enthusiasm of the responses we received. I had no idea that people felt so strongly about colour.


After these episodes, I became preoccupied with the very subject of colour. As I always do when I get interested in an idea, I headed to the library, where I was amazed to discover an engrossing literature on colour. What interests me is the paradoxical and elusive nature of colour. Colour influences us, whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s a ubiquitous, conspicuous aspect of our world, but it’s unstable and hard to describe. Art can’t capture it; philosophy can’t make up its mind; science is unsatisfying; popular culture overstates.

I’m very absent-minded, and I’m usually walking around distracted by my own thoughts. By training myself to look at colour, really to see it, I’m more able to engage with the world around me. It makes me feel more awake, more alive to the beauty of everything around me – the bright orange of a traffic cone against grey asphalt! Gorgeous.


What is your earliest colour memory?

I remember loving to gaze at the beautiful and unusual colour combinations in Ludwig Bemelmans’s classic picture book, Madeline. Also, many of my favourite childhood playthings featured colours: Lite-Brite, with its glowing tubes of colour; Colorforms, with brightly coloured shapes stuck against black backgrounds; wooden Cuisenaire rods in math lessons; my frequently replaced sets of Crayola crayons and Caran d’Ache pencils.


Last year you had your colours analysed with Ilka Dunn from Red Leopard and found out you were an Autumn. How has that changed the way you dress now?

I think much more about whether a colour suits me before I buy an item. As a New Yorker, I tend to wear a lot of black, and I’m trying to push away from that easy, default choice.


Are you inspired by the different names of colours?

Yes, so many! I love the traditional terms: ochre, buff, greige, chartreuse, fawn, cerise, aubergine, heliotrope, mauve, mushroom, sepia, cadmium, drab, celadon, pumpkin, apricot, terracotta, garnet, isabelline, chalk, gamboge, orpiment, fallow. And I love the modern colour terms for things like nail polish, like “My Wish List is You” or “Playdate”— more evocative of experiences, less tied to natural roots.

Any colour you particularly dislike?

I don’t like neon or fluorescent colours.

Do you have a favourite display of colour in nature?

I love seeing lapis lazuli—it’s hard to believe it’s so brilliant. Same with poison dart frogs! It seems utterly improbably that they could be a product of nature.


You have your own colouring book, The Happiness Project Mini Posters. Can you tell us about it?

What a joy it was to work on that project! I was struck by the fact that more and more adults are returning to the colouring books they loved as children. It’s a great happiness booster. Colouring is calming, even meditative. The activity of colouring helps to focus the mind and rest the body in a constructive, creative way. Also, my colouring book is made up of quotations from my work, all about happiness. I hope that these quotations, too, will inspire quiet reflection.

Colouring is very satisfying because there’s a special pleasure in doing things with our hands. Very often these days, we’re sitting behind screens and living in our heads. As with activities such as knitting or tying flies, colouring allows us to connect with the physical world in the present moment. And there’s something about the repetitive, wordless nature of the work that boosts creativity and energy.


Research shows that a secret—probably the secret—to happiness is strong connections with other people. Colouring is fun to do with other people. It’s companionable and allows for conversation, and at the same time, gives a sense of shared purpose.

As I mentioned, with my sister, Elizabeth Craft, I host a podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. Many people have written to tell us that they like to colour as they listen to the latest episode – the two activities are highly compatible. Finally, one of my own favourite things about colouring is that it gives me a reason to buy and use beautiful supplies – gorgeous coloured markers and pens as well as lovely books of designs. Well-made tools make work a joy. And I love to feast my eyes on beautiful, brilliant colours.


How much do you embrace colour in your own home?

One of my earliest childhood memories was vowing to myself that when I grew up, I would paint my house purple. I live in an apartment building, so fortunately I’m released from any obligation to my vow, but it’s worth noting that two rooms in my apartment are painted purple. My office is a deep blue, with bright green and pink fabric on the curtains and chair. All that colour refreshes me.

The colours of my home are either deep, or very light and natural. I don’t have much bright or clear colour. I love those colours, but find them a bit wearing.

And finally, if you had to choose a favourite colour, what would it be?

Colour itself is my favourite colour. The colour wheel, the rainbow, the artist’s palette, the paint fan-deck. I can’t choose one colour, and I love to see the array presented.

Visit Gretchen's website here

You can take her Four Tendencies Quiz to find out if you’re an Upholder, a Questioner, an Obliger, or a Rebel here

Gretchen's book The Four Tendencies is available to buy on Amazon. Her new book My Color Pilgrimage: From Red to Violet and Back Again is coming soon.