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Photographs Fuel Happiness. Here’s How.

On my grief and resilience blog, I write extensively about innovative ways photographs can be used to remember and celebrate family and friends we never want to forget. Pictures spark memories, and feelings of nostalgia can make us happier. I call this little known upside of nostalgia the Reflection Effect, and I wrote about the phenomenon for O, the Oprah Magazine. But looking at photographs isn’t the only tool for embracing the past. Another great opportunity is taking photos. Here are some fun and creative ideas for using photos to make you happier:

Use Photos Intentionally, Amplify Their Power

Loss brings a flurry of emotions and oftentimes an avalanche of papers, books, jewelry, clothing, and photo albums. Rearranging objects and taking them out of their original context can be a game changer in how remembering makes us feel. Bit by bit, remembering can and should feel good.

This is why a few days I ago I felt compelled to do something I’d never done before: I uploaded photographs to Legacy Republic and created a photo cube with snapshots of my family, making sure to include images of living family members and those who’ve died. The most visible picture (shown above) is of my father and me at the pool. There’s also a great shot of Mom and me at the beach. I included both my parents because my kids never got to know them. My mother died before they were born and my father passed away when my son, my oldest, was just 18-months old. By integrating all my loved ones, I’m teaching my children an essential lesson — that absence and presence can coexist. Recognizing this tends to decrease pain associated with loss and boost feelings of gratitude and joy.

Take a Photography Class, Focus on Grief

The act of taking photos can also be enormously healing. What’s Your Grief offers a six-week online photography course for individuals coping with loss. Instructors Eleanor Haley and Litsa Williams, founders of the pioneering platform, believe photography helps participants express emotion. They also believe that taking pictures of poignant symbols (or objects found at home or in nature) helps keep memories of loved ones alive. It’s that renewed sense of connection, they say, that fuels post-loss happiness.

Hire a Photographer, Create Commemorative Art

Eyeglasses, 2017, Mindy Stricke

If you’re less of a Do It Yourselfer, then consider working with photographer Mindy Stricke. As part of her extraordinary Memory Landscapes series, Mindy creates bold, highly imaginative photographs of sentimental objects. Items are shot in extreme close-up so they become abstract shocks of color, virtually unrecognizable. Items have included a bathrobe, eyeglasses, baseball, and wrench.

Each photograph is informed by an in-depth conversation between Mindy and her client. “Instead of asking questions about the person’s grief, I’m asking questions about their happiest memories,” Mindy tells me. “The image that is produced is less a reflection of their grief and more a reflection of their important and enduring  relationship.”

Mindy works with personal mementos as well as carefuly chosen objects that reflect an individual’s interestes and passions.

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