Service Sunday: The Smile Project
I don’t have an organization to feature this week. It’s Saturday as I type this and even all week leading up to today, I knew I didn’t have an organization to feature. I’ve interviewed, compiled, and produced a half dozen #ServiceSunday posts and still today, I fell short.
Maybe I jumped the gun a little bit with this project. I posted my introduction to the new blog series before reaching out to a single person or organization. Yet, somehow, I managed to stay on it and get six blogs out. My original and intended purpose of #ServiceSunday was less taxing. Rather than relying on contacts at the organizations, I was simply going do some research on my own and highlight some of their major wins. But isn’t it more fun to speak to the world shakers themselves?
My original plan for the weeks I was without interview was to write an opinion piece (similar to #WednesdayBlogDay but strictly about some aspect of service). That’s still the plan. But first, I’m going to write the most selfish blog post of my life.
I’ve been working on The Smile Project for five years now and I’m still exceptionally bad at explaining it. In the course of these interviews, I’ve asked people to talk about their organization and without hesitation, they are confidently able to tell me what they do. Now, why can’t I do that?
Therefore, this #ServiceSunday is going to be my version of a Service Sunday speaking on behalf of The Smile Project. I’ll use the same questions and format as I do for the other orgs. I know this seems silly and strange, but it’s a learning experiment for me that should have been done a long time ago.
Without further ado, let’s learn about The Smile Project.
Organization: The Smile Project
Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion: give me a “Happiness is!”
This seems silly to answer seeing as I’ve over 1,600 of them floating around this very site and the social media that probably led you here. But I suppose this entire “interview” is a little test in silliness. Regardless, my favorite Happiness (outside of dogs and warm soup, of course) is seeing the people you love happy.
Tell me a little bit about your organization.
The Smile Project began with a super nice car ride. I was driving home from high school in the fall of my senior year when I realized I was really truly happy. I arrived at my house, logged onto Facebook, and typed the following status:
I had a knack back in high school for doing weird things with social media. I never posted about my life or anything like a normal teenager. Instead, I posted “Movie Quote of the Day” where people had to guess the film or “Question of the Day” where I pitted my friends against each other in epic tales of cats vs dogs (and so on). But anyway, this time was different. This time I wrote “Day One.” This time - somehow - I knew it was going to be more.
The next day I probably would have forgotten about it had it not been for the playful attitude of a woman in a superstore parking lot:
And just like that, I knew I was hooked.
Except I wasn’t. A couple weeks in, I was certain I had covered everything and was therefore content to stop posting forever and go back to a mundane existence. But for unexplainable reasons, I kept posting. On the day this blog goes live (April 10 2016) I will also post my 1,615th consecutive day of Happiness.
I kept making daily posts and eventually people started to take notice. It was then that The Smile Project we know today began to take shape. I developed a website and pulled my arts and crafts self together to make small clay smiley faces to support various charities. Then, I went to college.
That slowed things down a bit for me. But I kept posting Happiness. I had so many ideas for where I saw the project going but nothing that I was actively pursuing. One day, though, my friend convinced me to take the leap. I began the process of design, distribution, and sales for motivational shirts and merchandise. I was completely overwhelmed at the success of the first sale. It was a humbling realization to recognize that joy was such a universal desire.
Since then, I have been devoting my spare time to growing the project in any way possible. One of my favorite things is taking pictures of people holding the infamous “Smile sign” and collecting their reasons for happiness. I am wrapped up in thinking of daily happies so it’s nice to see what other people define as joy given only one day and one moment to think of it. I’ve taken over 200 Smile pics and I’ve noticed a few themes, but I’ll leave them for you to discover. Check it out here. I’ve also been fortunate enough to speak on behalf of the organization several times - an opportunity I never take for granted.
Most recently, I developed SPARK Chapters which are essentially student led branches of The Smile Project. SPARK stands for Strengthening Positivity and Reinforcing Kindness and it’s basically a random acts of goodness club. Stay tuned because we just might have our first groups popping up here before we know it!
All in all, The Smile Project is an organization designed to promote happiness and show people that, even on their worst day, they can find something to be grateful for.
What is the driving force behind what you do?
Hm. Going off my last answer, I’m going to say the driving force behind what I do is knowing that I didn’t used to think in the ways The Smile Project has taught me to think. I didn’t see the world as “something good in each day.” I was an angsty, troubled, 17-year-old when the project began and happiness was far from something that was on my daily radar.
The Smile Project taught me joy. It rewired my brain and forced me to not just see the good, but to find it...to seek it out. More importantly though, The Smile Project taught me how to take that joy and share it with others. It taught me how to love and how to be kind and how to take care of the world.
The ultimate driving force behind The Smile Project is wanting to help as many people as possible recognize that goodness is out there and kindness is stronger and genuine happiness does exist. They just have to try to find it.
What does “service” mean to you?
Service is the most important thing we have. We all are gifted with these incredible super powers that so few of us use. Whether it’s public speaking or ballet dancing, you have something in you that could inspire other people...something that is the cause for admiration and renewed hope. Service is all about finding your strengths and utilizing them to help others. It shouldn’t be overly taxing or dreadfully boring. Real service brings out the best in you and it starts by finding out how you work best and how you can best help the world around you.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I can’t answer this, ever, because I’m completely obsessed with quotes and have thousands memorized and taped all over my bedroom wall at home. However, going off the previous question, I’ll share something that’s been buzzing in my mind lately:
"Serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received."
1 Peter 4:10
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I was considering skipping this at first since in real interviews I usually let the interviewee pick either a quote or advice, but I’m sharing this advice because one of my amazing mentors deserves a shout out. I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with incredible professors, camp counselors, friends, and family who have become the biggest role models in the world to me.
I recently hit a technology glitch with The Smile Project and lost about 3 months of edits to a major writing document. It was numbing and horrible and I shut down and almost completely walked away from everything. In lamenting this to my friend and mentor, he simply responded with:
"When I write your biography am I going to talk about how you lost three months of work and it sucked, but it hardly slowed you down; or about how you almost did this really cool thing once when you were young?"
It wasn’t direct advice, but the message was clear. For the first time since the crash, I genuinely smiled and laughed and thought, “you know, maybe he’s right.” And now that’s written in this year’s Happiness is notebook cover just in case I need a reminder.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yeah, thanks for letting me do this silly “talk to myself” interview. If you’ve read this far, congrats. You’ve officially read the first (and last, I swear) Smile Project interview that features The Smile Project.
This forced some self-reflecting on me which was awesome and gave me something to push out for you guys on this chilly April Sunday.
This concludes my seventh #ServiceSunday. Thanks for allowing me to publicize this little personal challenge. I hope this was fun for those of you who have been here since Day 1, watching The Smile Project transition from one girl’s Facebook statuses to what it is today. Obviously, if I’ve gone this far, I might as well make it a true #ServiceSunday and relink the other social media accounts for The Smile Project. Here they are: Facebook - Twitter - Instagram - Pinterest - LinkedIn. Check ‘em out! Throw me a follow. Or at least throw me some advice on how to properly hashtag. #TwitterProbs (?) Anyway..
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.