I started posting “Happiness is” statuses in November 2011. I was 17 years old. When I realized I had a following and when I realized how much the daily posts had impacted my own life, I decided I wanted to start “The Smile Project.” I began selling inspirational merchandise to benefit different charities. My charities covered a few major cause spaces (animal welfare, mental health, physical health, children’s causes, and international affairs). My choices were very intentional and spread out.
When I began to expand the organization, I still wanted to do everything. I didn’t know how to explain to people that everything meant everything to me. I cared so much for the world and had no idea how I could pick just one thing. I wanted to protect the environment, but I also valued education for all and don’t get me started on how much I love animals.
I wanted to save everyone, and in some ways, I still do. I had no idea how to focus any of my well-intentioned passion and so I threw myself into every nonprofit and cause I could get my hands on. I was running a nonprofit called The Smile Project and then lamenting over crises that I knew a “Happiness is” couldn’t save.
I was recently working with a group who tackles some of life’s major issues from homelessness to poverty to literacy. I thought about my own work with The Smile Project and wondered how I could even feel relevant. I let myself feel small and insignificant for a moment until I realized something else.
I’m not poised to cure cancer. I don’t know how to invent the next robot that will clean up the oceans. I can’t volunteer to help low income individuals with their taxes. Heck, my dad does my taxes (thanks, Dad)! And that’s okay.
The world doesn’t need more people going into a specific field because their parents told them to or because they think that they should. The world needs more people who find what they love to do and relentlessly pursue it every minute of every day. Find your strengths and cater your life to it. Do what makes sense for you. That’s what this world needs.
I don’t know how it took me 56 days across America, but I’ve finally realized what my core cause is – kindness. The Smile Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading Happiness through Random Acts of Kindness. Sometimes that’s working with an animal shelter. Sometimes that’s a book drive. Sometimes that’s just a free coffee.
This summer has been the most natural thing in the world for me. Sharing kindness across America and encouraging others to do the same is exactly what The Smile Project has always been. Being able to work across state lines and across cause spaces, connecting people and organizations who may otherwise never have met is everything The Smile Project stands for.
This crazy little Happiness crusade was never meant to fit in a box. Much like kindness, it’s intended to float all around us, shining in those little moments, hoping we are paying attention to all the joy that an intentional life of service can bring.