Wellcome Collection to present On Happiness, a season of free exhibitions, events and activities exploring the complex theme of happiness

This July Wellcome Collection will launch ‘On Happiness’, a season of free events, activities and two exhibitions – ‘Joy’ and ‘Tranquillity’ – which will bring together voices from across the cultural, scientific and spiritual fields to reflect on the elusive subject of happy feelings.

In this period of great instability, escalating infectious diseases, ecological concerns and rising levels of anxiety and depression worldwide, Wellcome Collection will examine the ways in which people find resilience, hope and even joy at times of duress. In response to seismic political and social upheavals, ‘On Happiness’ will ask: how might we rebuild happiness for our current times?

From serenity to ecstasy, awe to comfort, happiness encompasses many different feelings and has perplexed scholars for centuries. There has long been debate around the role of emotions, where they come from and how they are expressed, and whether they are innate or acquired, universal or culturally specific. Reflecting on the connections between complex emotions, our bodies and health, ‘On Happiness’ will offer audiences an opportunity to rethink how we feel good.

Exhibition programme


15 July 2021–9 January 2022
Gallery 1

Through immersive exhibits, ‘Tranquillity’ will present gentler states such as contentment, serenity, peace and balance, and will investigate themes including reverie, retreat and the calming effects of time spent in nature.

Two newly commissioned installations will explore different experiences of tranquillity. Visitors will be invited to relax in a yoga studio created by Jasleen Kaur whilst also reflecting on self-care practices and the systems of exploitation hidden within the wellness industry. Chrystel Lebas’ multi-sensory installation documents some of the oldest forests in the world, translating the awe of being in these ancient landscapes. Both projects ask us to think carefully about our own wellbeing and our interdependence on others and the natural environment.

At the centre of ‘Tranquillity’ will be a room of contemporary artworks and historic artefacts, many drawn from Wellcome’s own collections, which examine approaches to regulating the body and balancing the mind. A rare English folding almanac used to diagnose ill-health in the Middle Ages; Toby Glanville’s photographs of allotments, which capture the restorative benefits of gardening; and Octavia E Butler’s notebooks revealing the author’s notes of self-reflection and encouragement are just some of the objects that will examine the range of different approaches that help us navigate our feelings and find greater equilibrium.  


15 July 2021–27 February 2022
Gallery 2

The ‘Joy’ exhibition will explore heightened emotional states such as ecstasy, euphoria and pleasure through experiences including laughter, dancing and protest. Many of the works in the exhibition will explore joyful experiences as a way of releasing tension and helping to mitigate the impact of stress in the body.

A drawing from the 1400s illustrating Aristotle’s belief that senses were gateways of perception; an early Islamic medical encyclopedia from Iran suggesting a connection between intestinal and mental health; and a 17th-century Chinese book indicating the different feelings associated with bodily organs are among some of the Wellcome Collection items that will explore different theories of the role of emotion in and on the body.

‘Joy’ will include new artworks by Harold Offeh, Amalia Pica and David Shrigley. which explore themes of resilience, humour and hope. The commissions will be shown alongside contemporary artworks and historic objects that focus on different paths to joy and its interconnection to sorrow. These works will demonstrate how we might move beyond the over-simplistic concepts of ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ in order to create a more complex understanding of emotion.

Perspectives from poets, scientists, historians and activists will be situated throughout the gallery and will reflect on joy and the role it plays within our societies. Visitors will be invited to consider the ways in which communities have responded to challenging times with positivity, and how altruism often increases in the face of adversity. The exhibition will capture how different generations negotiate difficulty and reclaim joy on their own terms. 

‘Joy’ and ‘Tranquillity’ are co-curated by Laurie Britton Newell and George Vasey as part of Wellcome Collection’s ‘On Happiness’ season.

For press information and interview requests please contact

Alice EvansMedia Manager+44 (0)7909 534076

Notes to editors

On Happiness | Joy and Tranquillity

‘On Happiness’ is a season of free exhibitions, events and activities exploring the complexity of positive emotions, running at Wellcome Collection from 15 July 2021 to 27 February 2022.

Find out more on the Wellcome Collection website

Visitor information

Admission to Wellcome Collection is free, but tickets must be booked in advance via the website. Tickets for the ‘Joy’ and ‘Tranquillity’ exhibitions will be released in June 2021.

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10.00 to 17.00; late closing time on Thursdays at 19.00.

Commissioned artists

About Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection is a free museum exploring health and human experience. Its vision is to challenge how we all think and feel about health by connecting science, medicine, life and art. It offers changing curated exhibitions, museum and library collections, public events, in addition to a shop, restaurant and café. Wellcome Collection publishes books on what it means to be human, and collaborates widely to reach broad and diverse audiences, locally and globally.

Wellcome Collection actively develops and preserves collections for current and future audiences and, where possible, offers new narratives about health and the human condition. The museum and library work to engage under-represented audiences, including D/deaf, disabled, neurodivergent, and racially minoritised communities.

Wellcome Collection is part of Wellcome, which supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone. We support discovery research into life, health and wellbeing, and we’re taking on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, global heating and infectious diseases. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.