7 Reasons Why Photographs Can Boost Your Happiness.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.

This Wednesday: 7 reasons why photographs can boost your happiness.

Photographs are such a joy, and I don’t know about you, but I’m much more focused on taking photographs now that cameras and phones have evolved to make taking photos so much easier. I used to begrudge the time that I spent on photos, but now  I realize the role they can play in happiness.

1. Photos remind us of the people, places, and activities we love. Many people keep photos in their homes, in their office, or in their wallet, and happy families tend to display large numbers of photos at home. In Happier at Home, I write about my “shrine to my family” made of photographs.

2. Photos help us remember the past. One of the best ways to make yourself happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past. Photos are a great memory-prompt, and because we tend to take photos of happy occasions, they weight our memories to the good.

3. Photos can save space while preserving memories. Through a friend, I heard about a fantastic service, Plum Print, “the simple solution for storing and preserving kids’ artwork.” I mailed in a giant, awkward pile of my younger daughter’s artwork and school work from her early days, and Plum Print transformed it into a lovely hardback book. That’s the final product, in the picture.  My daughter’s work looks great, she’s thrilled with her “book,” and I have a slim, tidy record of everything she made for several years. I saved a few of the actual pieces, then threw away the rest. A friend was shocked that I tossed any of it, but I have a record of it, I kept the best pieces, and I’ve found that mementos work best when they’re carefully culled and displayed.  (Disclosure: I got my Plum Print book for free.)

4. A photo of something can sometimes replace the thing itself. After my friend’s beloved father died, she wanted to keep his enormous desk, as a memento–but she really didn’t have space for it. She took a photo of it, and then was able to let go of the desk. Strangely, too, a photograph of something can be more beautiful than the thing itself.  Consider Edward Weston’s photographs of peppers.

5. Photographs allow you to curate things you love. Taking a picture is a way to “claim” something. On Pinterest, I love to add things to my From the Ministry of Happiness board. It’s a way to make a collection without having to buy or cope with anything.

6. Taking photos fosters creativity. My delightful friend Maria Giacchino, who does my videos, takes and posts one photograph each day. The images are beautiful, and the need to find the day’s photo keeps her engaged with the world in a creative way.

7. Taking photographs can act as a diary. I’m always trying to figure out ways to keep hold of memories. My one-sentence journal, for instance. I try to use photographs to record the little moments that are so precious but also so easily forgotten.  One thing I wish I could tell my younger self: take photos of everyday life, not special occasions; later, that’s what will be interesting to you.

What have I forgotten? What are some other ways that photos can boost your happiness?

  • Barbara

    You pretty much nailed it with these descriptions. I particularly like and can relate to number 6. The actual act of framing and lighting the photo, etc. helps keep the creative juices flowing. Getting a great result is a sure mood booster. Me, personally, I’m a photo junkie. I’ve literally archives of family history in photos…my grand-uncle was a photographer and my father had a passion for slide photography.

  • peninith1

    You have inspired so much happiness for me by suggesting new ways to handle photos, Gretchen. Since reading about your ’15 minutes a day’ resolution to deal with photos, I followed your lead and acquainted myself with Shutterfly. I learned how to make albums by making a record of a special quilting-related road trip in West Virginia, and collecting a dozen years’ worth of Christmas projects in a holiday theme album. Now I am ready to take a photo album of an informal family wedding that took place last month. I love this way of documenting my quilting hobby. I greatly look forward to making albums of an accumulation of family photos–now that I have learned how to scan them for future use in Shutterfly albums.

    Photos are great for journaling or blogging. The best gift my S.O. ever gave me was a digital camera. I now snap pictures with the camera or my phone and use them to illustrate my weekly newsletters to friends. Pictures really do warm up any narrative, and provide pleasure and great memories. Being able to share the pictures in a nicely-produced album is just about priceless. Again thank you for these great ideas that truly have added to my happiness!

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy to hear that that resolution helped you. I was so relieved to get control of my digital photos. Can feel overwhelming, but it can be done!

  • Janice Enright

    Funny you bring this up. Since January 1st I have been taking
    at least a picture a day that makes me feel happy. I print them up
    each day and glue them into my 365 days of happiness picture book
    that I have created! I love it as it keeps me focused on paying attention to
    the times, places, fun and people that add to my daily happiness.

  • I love photos and have always taken a lot of them but a few years back when I was quickly looking thru my iPhoto file I noticed I wasn’t in most of my photos. I want to remember myself in those slices of time so I now take more photos of myself- even if they are just cheesy self-photos- so I can remember what I looked like at that age and even sometimes I can see what I was thinking.

  • Rachel

    I love the idea of a book of kids’ artwork!

    Digital photography sometimes overwhelms me. It seems as though people take too many photos these days. It was so much easier when we were limited by rolls of film to develop.

  • Molly

    I agree, I agree, I agree. I love pictures, photo books, etc. I’ve never heard of Plum Print, but I am definitely going to do it! I have so much art work from my son that I cannot bear to let go of even though I know he won’t even care about most of it. Some of it is just to preserve his early attempts to write, and these would be perfect for such a book.

    My mom saved so many of my toys for my son, and even the ones that weren’t gender specific were a treat for a bit, but not for long. They ended up not serving the purpose she had hoped they would serve, and so now, I try to take pictures of my son with his toys so he can show them to his children, but so that he won’t have to bear the burden of having to get rid of them or store them again. The same is true with clothes. (I save minimal toys and clothes for this reason.) Finally, I remember getting a good idea from a parenting magazine. So many people give little children gifts at holidays, and the magazine suggested taking pictures of the child in the clothes or playing with the toys and including that in the thank you card. I’ve gotten so many emails and phone calls thanking me for these pictures. Since they are so easy to print nowadays, it really isn’t all that much trouble.

    • gretchenrubin

      I do this too – make sure I have photos with the favorite toys or outfits, so that we have the memory but don’t have to keep the stuff.

  • chacha1

    Taking photographs makes me pay more attention to the shapes, lines, colors, and compositions – but also to the action and the sound – of life around me. I am more likely to stand still and really watch/listen if I am trying to compose a photograph, versus just walking through an area.

  • leap

    I enjoy organizing my photos into albums with captions and
    even a story here and there. I love the feel of different papers, so I still
    print the photos and either tape them in or use photo corners. I’ll often
    arrange a few photos in an interesting card, my favorite being a route of a
    bike trip with photos and mileage along the way.

    I think Maria Giacchino’s habit of photographing everyday life is
    fantastic. It would be fun to sort them by out-of-the-ordinary themes, like shapes
    that delight me in everyday objects or ten everyday moments I’d take with me to
    a desert island. To incorporate different themes at the same time, I suppose
    one could organize them like a Periodic Table. One day, I’ll manage to get my
    pre-digital photos scanned to create albums across the years like peninith1.

  • discoveredjoys

    I agree with all the happiness boosts of photography mentioned. On top of those there is also the benefit of appreciating the changes in our surroundings. So plenty of ‘projects’ suggest themselves…

    Take pictures of your local park/countryside from the same viewpoint throughout the seasons.
    Take pictures of all the shops in a street, and repeat the exercise each year.
    Do a photomontage of your kids at various ages.
    A photograph of every car you have owned.
    A set of photographs of a new building (eg a theatre or school) showing the phases from demolition, site clearance, foundations, steelwork, walls, roofing, painting, landscaping.

    All of these show change, possibly growth, and help you to be aware and present to your surroundings. When you see the changes happening you are not made unhappy when your favourite shop has suddenly ‘gone’, and you can appreciate that spring follows winter, and so on.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great ideas.

  • wannafly

    It can be morbid to have this conversation or to even do it yourself for your loved ones but photos can help in hard times with a little planning. Ask your parents to take pictures of the things they want each child to have. They can simply write the name of the person they wish have the item on the back or include the name of the person in the naming of the photo. This will make their wishes clear, let the kids know they really wanted something to go to some one, avoid some of the arguments that can arise and ease the strain of “clearing the closets and splitting up the goods” that ALWAYS comes with a death. Tell mom and dad it would be a great gift at a time of great hardship. We can also take the initiative and next time they are visiting, take a picture of themselves and their parents with a treasured item and start the discussion. possible approach – I would find this comforting when I don’t have you. You think it’s hard when they are alive? It is impossible after they are gone.

  • Amber

    For me, taking photos, particularly for a regular purpose such as posting on a blog, has been a fantastic way to increase my appreciation/gratitude of the good things in my life.

    In fact this was the very reason I started my blog… When I was suffering from anxiety last year, I was advised to think of 3 things I was grateful for each night when I went to bed – however this isn’t something I found easy to remember to do. For me, taking photos of the good things during my day was much more meaningful. Everyday I see wonderful moments that I want to capture on camera. (www.cumquatsandquices.blogspot.com)

  • Carolyn Carden

    Great ideas! I love the photos my son has taken the past few years – he is 8 now and I let him try out my camera around age 4. The pics are priceless, shot from his vantage point and sometimes goofy little boy funnies (dog noses and rear ends). My initial reaction was to let him play photographer then delete them all but I changed my mind when I viewed a few slideshows.

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  • I’ve been doing the 365 day project myself since my birthday and I love it, I have no particular interest in photography so my photos have no artistic merit as such, but they are very personal. I take my camera everywhere and have captured some real gems of the people I love and special memories such as the day I graduated nursing, started learning to drive, got a new job, but also of those little everyday moments that really matter. I can look back to any day and know what I did. I would encourage anyone to do it, if nothing else but to see the value of a day.

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  • Sometimes a photograph as simple as a steaming cup of coffee early in the morning on a wintry day can trigger a moment of happiness!

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  • Antonia Ilieva

    That is why I love photography! Totally agree with you Gretchen!

  • Thats true

  • Yes! As you pointed out in your book, photos are an easy way to engineer a “mood boost”, but we have to be able to see them in order for it to work. I am a professional portrait photographer and it is so satisfying to help clients design their very own version of the photo display I was inspired to blog about after reading your book: http://studiochp.com/blog.cfm?postID=7&family-portrait-photo-happiness. My advice to clients is to enjoy the process of letting the family photo display evolve over time. At its best, the family photo display is a dynamic, joyful focal point in the home that will grow and change right along with the family.

  • Anj

    ‘Take photos of everyday life’:

    Once or twice a year, I take photographs of everything I do for a fortnight so that I can have the ordinary memories but I’m not taking photos every day.