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Colourful Minds - Feeling blue or grey?

As I sat on the grass soaking all the dewy fresh green around me in the early morning, I thought to myself, is green the colour of nourishment?

Can we assign colours like that? Is there a colour of happiness and a colour of depression?

I am a writer with Inspire the Mind and other wellness & spirituality magazines. I wonder about seemingly little things and wander into their realms of connections with us and the universe. Born with anxiety and ‘introvert genes’, I donned the cap of Human Resources. Perhaps, I liked the hue of irony.

The world of colours has been an intriguing topic for centuries not only for healers of ancient civilization, but for scientists of the modern world too. Whether it’s the physics behind this philosophical quote by the poet Aleister Crowley, “A red rose absorbs all colours but red; red is therefore the one colour that it is not”, or neurologist Beau Lotto's philosophy that, “Every colour that people see is actually inside their head and it’s a useful perception of our world, but not an accurate one”; it has always fascinated my pinkish brain with all its grey matter.

Tippy, Tippy, Tap; what colour do you want?

It is interesting to note that the most popular favourite colour across the world is some shade of blue, perhaps reminding us of water and a clear sky. On the contrary, it is noted that we mostly feel repulsed by colours like brown, perhaps reminding us of dirt, rotting, and decay. A drab dark brown hue was informally chosen as the ‘world’s ugliest colour’ in 2012 when the Australian government hired a British research agency, GFK Bluemoon, to discover the colour to discourage people from smoking. It’s Pantone 448C, and is being used by more than 14 countries for plain cigarette packaging to curtail smoking. Well, did it work? Or did poor Pantone 448C just become a victim of colour-shaming!

I was the kid who loved everything in purple once. In my late twenties, purple became mundane, and soon entered a new colour into my world: turquoise. The calm that this colour gives me is inexplicable. Maybe my mind connects it with the mighty yet serene sea.

We might dismiss this as insignificant, but colours influence us in much larger ways than we expect.

Grey is the colour of depression. In a 2010 study, when asked to reflect on feelings of depression using the Manchester Colour Wheel, a tool used to study people’s preferred pigment concerning their state of mind, people pointed to grey. A 2016 study found those scoring highest on depressive scales selected grey as their colour of choice. The scientists found that depressed people have great difficulty in detecting the contrast between black and white.

I might not be able to see grey in the same light ever! (Would it still be grey then?)

Yellow was considered the colour of happiness but when more factors were taken into analysis, like hours of sunshine, amount of rainfall, and proximity to the equator, yellow-joy association levels varied a lot. As low as 5.7% in hot Egypt and as high as 87.7% in chilly Finland.

Healing with Colours

Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, practised chromotherapy, or the use of colours to heal, which is still practised today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

Egyptians used sun-filled rooms with coloured glasses for therapeutic purposes. They believed when the sun rays penetrated the specific parts of the body through coloured crystals, it would heal ailments. Indian ayurvedic medicine also believes that using certain colours that correspond to seven chakras in the body can bring balance and heal us on a physical as well as mental level.

One possible explanation behind these ancient systems of healing is that the unique wavelength and frequency of each colour are believed to bring a specific effect on our minds and body.

Do colours really hold the power to affect our mental and physical health? What do hue think? Let’s explore the most popular colour, blue.

Blue can be the problem; blue can be the answer!

Blue light improves alertness, attention and moods according to a study published in 2016.

Blue light in electronic screens affect circadian rhythm and in turn, our sleep quality, and setting them to warmer yellow tones or using blue light filtering glasses may help to some extent. For instance, these glasses have been introduced as a possible new treatment option to treat sleep disturbances even in patients with medical conditions, such as in patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

Moreover, narrow-band blue light therapy has emerged as an effective option to treat Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD) — a form of depression related to seasonal changes, when daylight hours are reduced.

Moreover, this type of therapy is used not only to treat adults, but all different age ranges. In fact, blue light phototherapy (light therapy) is also used when newborn babies contract jaundice, quite a common condition, which causes yellowing of the skin. Here, phototherapy works by treating the high level of bilirubin in their systems.

Colours aren’t magic and the impact that they can have on an individual depends on the cultural connotations, experiences, and memories. Even the language matters! A Russian can tell the different hues of blues faster than an English speaker because the Russian language has a clearer distinction of varied shades of blue. This was observed in a colour discrimination study done in 2007.

End Note

While colour psychology is interesting, there is still a lot of research needed in this area to reach definite answers. Yet, undoubtedly, colours make this life a wonderful place to be. Butterflies and rainbows, green forests and aqua oceans, iridescent hummingbirds and peacocks — the kaleidoscope of the world around us is unparalleled.

May we find ways to see the sunny side up in between the greys!


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