Last week, I had one of those days that was so hectic I couldn’t stop to go to the bathroom. My eyes had been glued to a computer screen for hours, and I was getting frazzled. I needed a break.
I’ve worked out of a home office since March of 2020, first driven by COVID, now driven by choice. Thus my “break” was not to an office water cooler but taking a few steps out to my back deck and yard. Almost instantly, I felt my shoulders relax and my breathing slow. Why? One word: sod.
As I’ve written before, my home has been under construction. The backyard for most of the last year has been a mound of brown dirt, surrounded by more dirt.
Brown is a great color for eyes, but not so much for the soul. Two weeks ago, though, landscapers descended on my backyard like bees on a bed of flowers. The brown mounds were flattened by rakes and hoes and then covered with rolls — so many rolls — of sod.
Within hours, my yard was transformed to a glorious emerald green. And so was my mental health. Transformed, that is.
Why does the color green have such an immediate positive effect? Certainly, we’ve heard over and over how good being out in nature is for your mental health. Other than chirping birds and the occasional bunny, though, I’m not sure my backyard counts as being “in nature.”
There’s a whole panoply of literature on the psychology of color. I could pursue a Ph.D. on color theory, there’s so much literature and so many applications of color knowledge out there.
Experts opine on what color to paint different rooms in your home, what colors brands should use for logos and marketing, what colors address depression, what colors stimulate the libido, how ancient Egyptians experimented with color treatments.
I had a simpler mission. To play on Kermit the frog’s lament that “it’s not easy being green,” I just wanted to know: Why is it so easing to see the color green?
Here’s what I learned. First of all, green is a “secondary,” not primary, color. (Bear with me wiser readers; I haven’t thought about primary colors since volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten class).
Green is a combination of yellow (mental clarity and optimism) and blue (emotional calm and insight).
“The color green relates to balance and harmony. From a color psychology perspective, it is the great balancer of the heart and the emotions, creating equilibrium between the head and the heart,” I found in one overview on the power of art therapy. Now, I was getting somewhere.
Green is a “cool” color — calming as opposed to stimulating, like red.
Carl Jung is thought to be the pioneer of the study of the role of color in modern psychological theory. “Colors,” he wrote, “are the mother tongue of the subconscious.”
Clearly, mine speaks green.
I also learned that we have “referential” versus “embodied” reactions to color. Perhaps being
drawn to the color green evokes for me — or references — the idyll of childhood summers spent in my yard searching for a four-leaf clover, a favorite activity.
My embodied reaction actually has a biological basis. The eye focuses the color green — and other cool colors — directly on the retina, and is less of a strain on your eye muscles.
There are surveys galore of color preferences. One from 2016 found Americans prefer blue, followed by green, purple and red. Yellow and brown were the least popular, the latter perhaps due to its association with poop. Yes, poop.
My study, and this column, of color could go on for years. There are that many paths of color inquiry.
And I haven’t even gotten to sod! Did you know that sod is actually farmed and harvested? Neither did I.
There’s so much more to know — and so little time — I’m growing anxious.
You’ll find me calming myself down in my backyard, humming along to Kermit: “When green is all there is to be, it could make you wonder why. But why wonder? I’m green, and it’ll do fine. It’s beautiful, and I think it’s what I want to be.”
Virginia Buckingham is the president of the Current’s board of directors. Her column appears weekly.
A member of the Marblehead Current’s Board of Directors, Virginia Buckingham is the former chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority, chief of staff to two Massachusetts governors, deputy editorial page editor for the Boston Herald and author of “On My Watch: A Memoir.”