Happy Sunday everyone!
Happy to share a really incredible story with you for this week’s #ServiceSunday blog. Roberto Corona found me through the world of Happiness and we exchanged the normal pleasantries that come when you realize you run organizations based in the same field (aka, smiling). I was so taken with his story that I immediately knew I had to share it with The Smile Project community.
A week later, we were Skyping across continents (isn’t technology great)? Roberto is an entrepreneur from Iquiqui, Chile. For eight years, he ran a photography and audiovisual production business. Then, in March 2012, his business was robbed. It was only as he felt his entire life was falling apart that he was truly able to find himself and create something beautiful from the rubble. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Roberto.
Organization: Collecting Smiles
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion: give me a “Happiness is!”
Roberto: “Happiness is.. to open your heart and share with people who are different than you. At first you are afraid because you are sometimes afraid of things that are different but when you open your heart to learn, you grow. So that makes me happy - learning from others, finding a connection with someone who is different.
Liz: Tell me a little bit about what you do.
Roberto: Collecting Smiles is a project to represent diversity of the cultural richness of every country in the world through stories that inspired us to smile more often. So, I ask people what makes them smile and I share their story through the picture that shows the reason of their happiness. It doesn’t matter how different we can be, my collection has become the universal language. I want to include everybody.
At first it was my own journey, but once I realized that happiness is more real when shared, I’m sharing this process with others. It gives everything meaning for me.
Liz: How did you begin Collecting Smiles?
Roberto: First, I went to New York City. I heard there were big opportunities to work as a wedding photographer there. I thought, ‘maybe I can open a business here.’ The first time I felt the snow, I felt so blessed. So happy, that I was in an upper level of getting to perceive all the positive things around me.
But then my time was almost up. I was lost. I had to come back to Chile...back to reality.
But I didn’t feel like it was meant to be. And I remember that moment when I felt so lost that I had to come back to reality and I wasn’t prepared and I felt so afraid. I was trying to connect with people and I was trying to smile at people and nobody was smiling back. (Roberto was in Times Square, NYC at this point).
And then somebody came to me and asked where I was from. I said Chile. The person said that was awesome. He was so full of energy and a positive attitude and suddenly I wasn’t sad anymore. I no longer felt afraid. I felt so proud to be a Chilean. I didn’t really care why he was so excited. Then he asked for a coin. He was collecting coins and he was missing one from Chile.
Then I thought, I want to collect something. I want to collect Smiles. In New York City, the United States, there are people from everywhere. So I borrowed a pen from a grafitti guy and I wrote down a collecting smiles sign. And I start to show people… like the Free Hugs sign.
And people started to smile at me.
I no longer felt invisible. I felt positive energy of people who wanted to share their smile. After New York, I was sharing all the pictures and people started to ask how they could be part of the collection. I remember that weekend my post was the most commented and shared of the Couchsurfing community. On Monday, it appeared in a front cover of the newspaper. So a lot of those people wanted to be involved.
First it was New York and then after visiting different places and getting to meet different people, I realized I didn’t want to stop. I made the challenge of “visit every country in the world.” The bigger goal is to learn from different people who represent different nations. They have a dream that there is no boundary that divides us.
I’m not afraid to come to your country and say ‘I love you.’ Love is the main force that can lead your life. The way you express gratitude - it starts with a smile. That’s the only thing that I need to start a conversation.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Roberto: I think that sometimes when you find a real purpose in your life - the universe conspired to get your goals. When I discovered that there was something bigger than myself pushing me to the next destination to connect with new people to start a conversation and to feel free to love - the idea didn’t need anything else.
I was feeling so grateful so there wasn’t any space for fear.
And when you are not afraid you are able to move and keep growing. So that’s what has happened to me.
If you are afraid, maybe you will not be able to start. Just thinking about the idea to travel the world is something that scares you because you feel like you don’t have the resources or the time or you don’t know where to go or who is going to support you. Maybe you won’t start.
But I didn’t have any idea. I just started by going to my first destination and the world opened up to me.
Liz: Why does Happiness matter?
Roberto: Because everything we do in life is to be more happy.
It’s like the ultimate goal. Because sometimes you say: ‘I want this new car.’ But why? Because that will make you feel happy. ‘I want this new iPhone.’ Why? The one you have now works perfectly? But you want the new one. But once you get that - it’s not enough.
We have this constant feeling of ‘it’s not enough.’ But when you are able to be grateful for the things that you have - you connect with this real feeling of the key to happiness is gratitude.
If we just stop for a second and think of what we really want in life - we will all agree we are looking for wellness and happiness.
Liz: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Roberto: Learn to appreciate life as a gift. Because once you realize that the most important gift you have on a daily basis is your life, you’ll be grateful for that. And you will feel like there’s nothing else you need.
Liz: How can people get involved or follow the story?
Roberto: Check the social media - Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube - I’m doing a daily conversation with people who want to talk about happiness and other subjects. I’ve been working on positive psychology with the people from the Wellness Institute, too.
Liz: What’s next?
Roberto: I have a plan to visit 10 countries every year and a long-term goal to visit every country in the world and collect smiles from every country. It’s exciting moving so fast. I’m no longer going back - just moving forward.
I encourage everyone to check out Roberto’s social media pages, highlighted above and share your own smile with the world. You never know whose life you might change by the simple act of a kind smile.
As for me, I’ll see you next Sunday as I highlight another phenomenal example of humankind.
Looking to nominate an individual or organization that you know? Reach out to The Smile Project on social media or by filling out the contact form here.
Liz: Anything else you’d like to add?
Roberto: Because of my family I’m able to believe in the beauty of my dream. When I was a child, I asked my mom how we get to this world. And she told me we come here in a star. And I looked up in the sky and saw the different stars that were shining. And I saw that we’re able to shine inside. And since I was a little child, I have felt like I am able to shine.
I think my mom was right from the beginning. We are really from the stars. We just need to remember that.