People have big expectations for January 1st. For their birthday. For Halloween. (Just me on that last one?)
Nobody expects much from November 9th. I didn’t expect much from November 9th until 2011 when I was driving home on an average day during my senior year of high school.
It was unusually warm for that time of year in Western Pennsylvania and I had my windows down and my radio up.
I can’t remember a single song that was playing. I don’t remember anything that happened in school that day. But I remember the most crystal clear thought I ever had in my entire life:
Happiness is.. those perfect car ride where the radio just plays all the right songs.
My second thought was, “nobody thinks like that.”
But the thought was there, on the windy curves of the back roads of the Pittsburgh suburbs and I knew I had to do something with it.
Like every 17-year-old in 2011 who thinks they have an idea that’s going to change the world, I went home and posted that exact status on Facebook. Then, like every 17-year-old with more AP classes on her schedule than average hours of sleep each night, I promptly signed out, did my homework, and went to bed.
Even THE November 9th in 2011 didn’t mean anything to me as it was happening.
Maybe that’s a really beautiful sentiment for life itself. We don’t always notice the life changing moments until we sit down, 1, 2, even 8 years later to reflect on what that one simple act meant.
November 9th is The Smile Project’s birthday, of course. But November 9th is also the most significant turning point for my personal development as a human being.
On November 9th 2011, I was a pretty average high school senior. Stressed out with typical high school senior stuff and, in my case, not always the best at looking on the bright side.
Finding Happiness wasn’t on my radar.
Until it was.
Today, I will post my 2,923rd consecutive day of Happiness. Today, I will start my ninth year of “Happiness is.”
These daily snippets of joy have been my constant companion as I grew from a quiet 17-year-old to a confident 25-year-old woman.
I’ve posted on inarguably joyous personal days - like graduating high school, moving to New York City, starting a new job. I’ve posted on milestone moments for The Smile Project, like the day I gave my first presentation about Kindness to a group of students, the day we were recognized as a formal 501c3 nonprofit organization, the day the #SmileProjectRoadTrip started.
But I’ve also posted on really hard days - personally and professionally. The day my grandmother had a stroke, the day I learned of a friend’s cancer diagnosis, the day I attended my grandfather’s funeral, the day my friend was arrested, the day I witnessed unspeakable tragedy, and so on.
And some of those days have been really hard. And sometimes I’ve wondered if I’ve had it in me to find something good and beautiful in a world that can sometimes seem so daunting and heartbreaking. And sometimes, when everything feels really heavy, I wonder if I should even post them at all. What can one post mean?
But then I think that maybe those are the days I need a “Happiness is” the most. It is in our darkest moments that we most desperately seek out light.
The Smile Project was born on November 9th 2011, from a 17-year-old high school senior who felt that darkness too deeply and was, perhaps, the person least qualified to talk about joy. And somewhere in this uphill journey, I learned what one post could mean.
November 9th is a heartbeat. This seemingly obscure day stands for potential. Not that things will be easy or perfect or seamlessly bright, but that maybe, just maybe, we will be able to find one small spark of joy.
“Happiness is” means hope. It means trusting the journey. The Smile Project is a simple promise for better days. For kinder days.
Here’s to the next 365. May they be filled with all the good stuff. And may we have eyes to see that. Thank you for being on this adventure with me.