Pictures That Make Us Happy cover

Pictures That Make Us Happy

By ,

The Prints and Photographs Division’s collections include images that evoke every possible emotion. This year’s International Day of Happiness – designated by the United Nations to recognize that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and to help more people meet that goal – felt like a fitting time to take an informal survey of what images make P&P reference staff members happy.
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Saturday afternoon in Franklin, Heard County, Georgia, 1941. Photo by Jack Delano. //

It’s difficult to see a person having a good time and not feel a corresponding mood lift. Barbara Natanson, Head of the Reference Section, said of the above image from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) Collection, “I love the laughter and the sense of relaxation and community.”

Baby Beede with kitten, Western Slope Farms, Colorado, 1939. Photo by Arthur Rothstein. //

Reference Librarian Jan Grenci explained why she chose the photo below this way: “Because she’s the cutest girl in the FSA! And she has freckles!”

Wild mustard plants bring color to the otherwise dormant vines of California’s Napa Valley in wintertime,2012. Photo by Carol Highsmith. //

For some of us, the sight of warmer climes and summery activities holds particular appeal during these final wintry days in Washington. For Natanson, a native Californian, a colorful scene in the Napa Valley appeals, “maybe because it reminds me of my roots and it’s nice to think of things blooming in winter.” You can practically feel the sun’s rays reaching through the screen.

Bathing beauties dancing on beach. Washington Monument in background, 1923. //

The two photos selected by Reference Assistant Lara Szypszak look forward to balmier days. For Szypszak, the first image “makes me feel happy and just a bit warmer in this chilly weather as I badly crave the sunny freedom that comes with summer in D.C.!”

Women in bathing suits with ukuleles, 1926. //

What’s not to love about the second photo, of women in swimsuits playing ukuleles?

Bear in mind the Prune Exhibit of the World’s Fair, 1905. //

There are some images that we get a kick out of because they are silly, unexpected, or simply bizarre. Grenci’s second selection, “Bear in mind the Prune Exhibit of the World’s Fair,” may fit all three categories. Asked to explain this choice she said, “It’s a bear. It’s made of prunes.” Fair enough.

Table set with a coffee cup, water glass, oranges and sugar cubes, 1961. //

This exquisite table settings from the collection of designers Charles and Ray Eames caught the attention of Reference Librarian Ryan Brubacher.

“Dig,” 1909. Chromolithograph by Sadie Wendell Mitchell. //

We hope these images bring a smile to your face, and inspire you to explore our collections for more uplifting visuals. For me, this International Day of Happiness is an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances that bring me contentment and joy. This exercise has certainly helped me recognize the privilege of having a national library that gives me daily access to such rich imagery.

Learn More:

Gain more context for the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection.

Take a look at more Napa images from the Carol M. Highsmith Collection.

Read about stereograph cards in the Prints and Photographs Division’s collections.

Explore an online exhibit about designers Charles and Ray Eames.