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Senior Capstone Result: Part I

In April 2015, I wrote a 100-page research paper as part of my senior capstone. In previous blogs I've alluded to the project, but today, realized that I never formally shared any findings with you.

For that reason, I'm introducing a two part series that is a direct copy of my final paper. For some context, here is a copy of my abstract followed by Part VII of the paper.


Positive psychology has jumped to the forefront of countless studies, books, and articles for one simple reason: happiness matters to everyone. Business schools used to teach the ideology of profit above all else; happiness and work were two opposing ideas. Fortunately, the tides are changing. From big businesses like Zappos to new non-profits, entrepreneurs are finally getting the message: positive company culture works. This project illustrates that it is possible to market a feeling. In this work, I explore how one can create an emotion-based movement which is ethically sound, sustainable, and impactful. This work is grounded in an examination of the basic science of happiness and incorporates evidence from personal interviews with entrepreneurs for social change to show the steps they took to achieve success. Lastly, I am hoping to use the knowledge I acquire to launch my own happiness based business.

Part VII. Results and Conclusion

“If the stars were to appear only one night in a thousand years, persons would speak for generations of the wondrous sight which has been seen. How much we take for granted! Let no day pass without appreciating something or someone, or simply saying, ‘How wonderful!’”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

At the end of the day, I sat, surrounded by everything I had researched and studied scattered on a desk with interviews and articles, and hiding from a browser with documents and tabs. It was time for me push that aside for one moment to sit down and take a critical look at what I had learned and what the future held.

When Capstone began, I found myself sitting a small office on the third floor of Thompson Clark academic building at Westminster College with my adviser and my singular other classmate. The session began with a single paper of the assignment breakdown: the proposal being the first thing due… in one week.

Here I was, in my opinion, making the biggest academic decision of college (outside picking a major), trying to decide the thing I would spend the next four months researching…and I was in a panic. Finding a focus has always been difficult for me, as I’ve alluded to previous sections. Now I was trying to mold this big project into something that would be impactful for my future success. It seemed daunting to say the least.

Prior to that first meeting, I had made two short lists, one of my relevant interests and talents.

For the interest column, I wrote:

1. Entrepreneurship

2. Volunteerism and Service

3. Happiness and Positive Psychology

Then I looked at talent:

1. Writing

2. Fundraising and Nonprofit work

3. Connecting People

I began a matching game, trying to figure out how I would be able pull together these topics into one coherent, focused project. I began thinking of questions. But as I thought of questions, my mind thought instead of ideas. I would think of a proposal to research, but instead get an idea for my own pre-existing work with The Smile Project. I always assumed whatever I did for my research would be helpful to learn for my future, but I wasn’t sure how to directly apply it to something I was already doing.

I was finally drawn back to the meeting when my advisor inquired on that very idea. I shrugged and explained that I had thought about it. Whatever I studied would still be useful to know regardless, right?

She looked up and said something along the lines of:

“Well. If that’s what you want to do with your life, why aren’t you doing it?”

And for some reason that really clarified any fear I had about anything. If I really want to work The Smile Project into my future, what was I waiting for? That day, I got back to my dorm and called my brother, explaining the meeting, explaining my ideas, explaining my excitement and motivation to really move to the next step.

In true big brother fashion, he responded with:

“Good. I’ve been waiting for this phone call for three years.”

That’s when I knew I was on the right track.

The first thing I did when I began this process was reach out. I had just finished an incredible book entitled Shake the World by James Marshall Reilly who set out to interview business people like Blake Mycoskie and Jessica Jackley, individuals who I had researched for my project. My first step would be to start my process the same way, only on a smaller scale.

I’ve always been a big proponent of learning from others who have been where I want to be. I spent hours looking into small nonprofits or new businesses and compiling pages upon pages of contact information.

In the end, I sent over forty e-mails to a wide variety of individuals ranging from the founder of Pure Thirst, my friend Matt Burnett, to the founder of Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton who unfortunately did not reply.

I sent every single e-mail in a general “request for interview” way on a long Saturday evening and when I woke up Sunday morning, I had six new E-mails. I was completely blown away. At the very least, I knew I would be waiting until the work week began on Monday to get any replies, but there I was, reading my e-mail from my residence hall issued bed grinning ear to ear with excitement.

How wonderful!

It had seemed so easy…so simple. Here were these individuals who, after reading their stories and learning more about their businesses, I had grown to admire immensely. And here they were, so willing and eager to schedule an interview or reach out to help in any way possible. On top of that, I have had continued correspondence with these individuals who live states away, simply because they believe in common goodness and are excited to help an ambitious student who was eager to learn.

The first phone date I had took place on February 3rd, 2015 at 4 p.m. as I paced around the Miller Board Room in McGill Library at Westminster College. Artist Steve Barr and I spoke for over an hour. He talked about his project, Cartoons for Pediatric Patients, where he teaches children in hospitals how to draw and provides them with a free drawing kit. He talked about business and the nonprofit world. We discussed applying for grants and finding a focus. He showed genuine interest in my work not only for the research paper, but with The Smile Project. Before we even spoke, he had sent me two documents: one the answers to my interview questions (to keep the phone call from becoming too structured) and the second, a four page paper about altruism and giving. After we spoke, he took the time and effort to look up two blogs and another resource he had alluded to on the phone. After copious amounts of thanks, he responded with the following humbling words:

“During our conversation, I got the distinct impression that you are a person who is going to accomplish wonderful things in your lifetime. Let me know if you ever need a letter of reference. I'll gladly write you a glowing review.”

Here was a man who, a week prior had not heard of Liz Buechele or The Smile Project. However after insightful phone conversations and e-mail contact truly believed in my ideals. The idea of “connecting people” came rushing back to me. How easy it was to make a meaningful connection. And of course, how wonderful.

The next morning, I woke up to yet another e-mail from my new friend. “An idea popped into my head after we talked last night…” it began.

Over the course of this project, I have continued to stay in touch with Steve, as I have with all of my contacts. They have all provided me with amazing insight and for that I am forever grateful.

While in the process of scheduling interviews and corresponding to the sudden onslaught of e-mails that was blowing up The Smile Project’s account, I snuck away to the library and efficiently cleared out the section on happiness. I picked up books on emotion and marketing and business, taking out inter-library loans and poured through chapter upon chapter in any spare minute I had.

One chilly day of Spring Break, I immersed myself in the audience of TED Talks, eating frozen pizza in front of the computer screen and taking notes from lecturers not only on their knowledge but on their presentation. I hope that, as I aspire to be a motivational speaker, I can someday be as compelling as the individuals I felt lucky enough to learn from. And it wasn’t just through these TED Talks that I found myself a student while still in my pajamas. Thanks to technology, I was able to sit in on a Webinar that took place in London, learning from people who may never know my name.

How wonderful!

I have interviewed seventeen people who have grown into role models, watched over a dozen TED Talks, attended a half dozen lectures and Webinars, dissected ten case studies, read countless articles and books, and by my estimation have compiled well over two hundred pages of notes. But how do I make all of that relevant?

I finally had all my research. Now I had to act.


Thanks for tuning in for this week's Service Sunday. Join me next week for Part II.

Love always,


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