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Color me happy (or sad, as the case may be)

In music, the color blue has always been associated with sadness, which is why Lyle Lovett’s mournful “I’ve Got the Blues” is a meandering trek through a dark, unrequited love story.

The blues, born in the Deep South during the era of slavery, is a musical genre that purged the pain of suppression and subjugation that slavery represented. But from blues came jazz, a lively, vibrant remix with jarring rhythms and elements of complexity and surprise.

Jazz is more of a rainbow of color, shards of yellow and orange mixed with chartreuse and hints of sultry red.

Music is rather like the moods inspired by color, something psychologists have studied for quite some time, especially the visceral response some people have to certain colors.

“Some people hate lime-green,” said web designer David Parker, while others – such as Beverly Hills housewife Lisa Vanderpump – are passionate over pink, and make it a dominant color in all parts of their lives.

“We … are very visual,” said neuroscientist Jerald Kralik, who said that ultimately, colors may have a more powerful impact on us than we may have thought. 1

And although the principles of color psychology are still fairly undeveloped, according to researchers Andrew Elliot and Markus Maier, despite centuries of study, we can still take advantage of the benefits of color.

Mood boosts can come from the clothing we wear, the colors we paint our walls or the dominant shades in the artwork that we are most drawn to at gallery shows and bring home to take a place in our own collection.

Excitement and strength: Red

Red – such as any city’s red-light district, a term that dates back to 1882 and represents the seedy part of town where brothels could be found – is the color of desire, which is why red roses are the ones associated with love. 2

“We link red to passion because red is the color we exhibit on our skin when sexually interested -- a red flush or blush,” Andrew Elliot, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, told HuffPost in a 2013 interview. 3

But there’s more to red than simply sex. Red is also a little bit dangerous, which makes it forbidden, like the skin of the apple that tempted Adam and Eve.

Red also stimulates and elevates the heart rate – the dangerous red flames of a fire trigger the same response as the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol, both holdovers from our caveman days - which is likely why you would be hard pressed to find a hospital with red walls. Still, emergency vehicles such as fire trucks and ambulances are often red, to alert oncoming traffic of a crisis.

According to studies, red is so powerful that when evenly matched Olympic athletes complete, those who wear red will win more races than competitors dressed in blue, simply because of the adrenaline rush that red generates.

One 2011 study from Rochester, N.Y. found that red boosts strength levels in participants compared to exposure to gray. 4

That makes red a great color for the office, where today’s fast-paced work environment requires us to do the work of more than one person in half the time, but not for when you come home to unwind.

Advertisers can also use colors to manipulate our moods, encouraging us to buy a product we might otherwise have passed by, using information that’s been studied since Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published “Theory of Colours” in 1810.

Red (think Target, State Farm and Ace Hardware, among others) as a power color, is the most popular marketing shade.

Calm and relaxed: Blue

According to a 2008 story that appeared in the Seattle Times, blue lights installed at train stations in Japan reduced the number of suicides by train, while in Glasgow, Scotland, blue street lights installed in neighborhoods as part of an improvement project were shown to reduce crime in those neighborhoods.

There are several studies determining that “blue has a calming effect upon people,” said Professor Tsuneo Suzuki at Keio University, who refrained from suggesting that the lighting was a preventative measure. 5

Still, color is powerful, and surrounding yourself with the right colors can help create a more peaceful environment.

According to Nancy J. Stone, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, told Health magazine that if you want to come home to a space that’s peaceful and serene, soft shades of blue will bring you the tranquility you desire.

Stress is one of the biggest health problems facing Americans. According to research appearing in this recent blog, anxiety is hardly a rarity.

According to the American Psychological Association, politics, health care, money, work and crime are society’s anxiety hot buttons, causing at least 75 percent of adults to report feeling stressed at least once during 2017, the most recent available statistics.

To ease that stress, soft, muted shades of blue, which bring to mind the sea and sky, can create a calming, relaxing environment that can lift symptoms of anxiety and lower blood pressure.

Happiness: Yellow

Yellow, the color of spring sunshine, daffodils and some autumn leaves, is a color that evokes a sense of happiness, experts say.

Both soft yellow and green – another hue prominent in nature – can also generate happiness.

A study from researchers in Amsterdam found that adults were more upbeat when surrounded by shades of buttery yellow. For children’s spaces, soft, pale yellows or greens will help create a happy vibe from an early age.

Bold, saturated yellow, however, can elevate levels of anxiety, having an effect that’s in opposition to happiness.

Sadness: Gray and black

In the same way gray skies can trigger symptoms of seasonal affective disorder ( check out this blog post on our website for more information ), gray can also be a color that can create a sense of sadness, especially if it dominates a room.

Dark blue, too, can evoke feelings of sadness, as can too much black, if it is not balanced by pops of color such as cheery prints, teal or orange.

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