The psychology of colour: grey

Martha Roberts, creator of The Colour File, investigates how colour makes us think, act and feel. This month, the shades of grey


The psychology of colour: grey

4 minute read

What does grey mean to you? For many, it’s school uniforms, windowless offices and rainy skies; it isn’t the go-to colour for hope! (Charles Dickens said: ‘Regrets are the natural property of grey hair.’) But is grey all about melancholy, or is there a brighter side to the shade?

Deserved or not, grey has a reputation for grimness. It became a symbol of war and industrialisation in the 1930s (see Picasso’s Guernica about the Spanish Civil War) and became a metaphor for uniformity of thought, as depicted in the 1955 book by Sloan Wilson, The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit. Today, grey is still seen as safe and sensible – ideal for blending into a crowd of ‘little grey men’!

But the flip side of uniformity is safety, which colour psychologist Karen Haller believes helps when times are hard. ‘In periods of uncertainty, people want to retreat from the world,’ she says. ‘We need to feel protected – and that’s what grey gives us. It reduces emotional overwhelm and noise.’ So, it can be a friend but, Haller says, it can also be draining.

If grey is depleting your energy, try this month’s challenge.

How to make your grey escape

● Push yourself out of your grey comfort zone and have an ‘away from grey’ day. ‘If you’ve found yourself stuck in a drab rut, wear colourful clothes for one day a week,’ says Haller. ‘It doesn’t have to be extreme; if you’re wearing a grey outfit, choose a red bag or shoes, even lipstick.’

● Apply this to your home: if you have a grey sofa, brighten it with vivid cushions.

● Before you make changes, note how you feel, then how that shifts after you’ve introduced colour. Do you feel energised?

● Are you having more positive thoughts? Are you getting compliments that boost your mood? Bye-bye grey days!

Find out more about Martha here.

Images: Martha Roberts

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