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Pictures that Make Us Happy

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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.

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.”

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!”

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

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.

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

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

Bathing beauties dancing on beach. Washington Monument in background, 1923.
Women in bathing suits with ukuleles, 1926.

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.

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

These exquisite table settings from the collection of designers Charles and Ray Eames caught the attention of Reference Librarian Ryan Brubacher. It’s hard not to delight in these displays, at once useful and beautiful.

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

Charles Eames cutting his birthday cake, Eames Office, Venice, California, 1963.

The image below gave Reference Librarian Kristi Finefield reason to reflect on the joys of having access to books: “Being surrounded by books and fully engrossed in the one I’m reading has always made me happy. The bright colors of this print add to the feeling that this is a happy moment for the young lady reading, much as it would be for me in the same position.”

“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.

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Comments (6)

  1. Wonderful. I could not be happier. Thank you for your effort!

  2. What a fun lot of photos! Thanks for the smiles (on the faces in the photos and on mine!).
    I particularly like learning just a little about Sadie Wendell Mitchell and her “Girls will be Girls” series.

    I have been trying to locate a photo that I think I found through a link on your email several months ago. Or years. I don’t know. But the photo first appeared to be young people on a beach struggling with their umbrellas. When I read more, I found that it was a scene from a play and was probably taken on a stage. I’ve thought of it since then and wished I kept a copy. Do you happen to know the image of which I speak?!? I have tried many search terms and found some amazing things (particularly Japanese woodblock art featuring parasols!) but can’t find the one I’m looking for.

    • I’m so glad the images made you smile, Melanie! We’ve added your question about the young people on a beach to our Ask a Librarian queue, and will send you a response shortly. For information about our Ask a Librarian service, see: //

  3. I saved reading the message about Happy Image for one of those down days, like today for me.

    I am so glad that I did that. Th pictures made me smile and make a new resolution : Be happy ! If I need a reminder, I will check the resources of the LOC for help.

    God bless America & the LOC,

    Audrey Diffley

    • What a great idea to save the post for a time when you needed cheering up! I’m happy to hear the images did the trick.

  4. Life’s too short not to be happy! Thanks for the smiles and the happy feelings!

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