I can’t tell you exactly when Kristen Parry and I became friends, only that it was some time in middle school and that it was a good decision. I hadn’t seen Kristen since the summer after high school graduation and was so excited to be able to reconnect in person in the fall of 2019.
As we drank tea at a coffee shop, ate hummus at our favorite Mediterranean spot, and watched movies at the local theatre, we found ourselves circling back to The Smile Project again and again. Sharing our own Happiness journeys and innate desires to bring genuine connection and kindness into the world, it became pretty obvious - I needed Kristen on the team.
I am so honored to introduce you to the newest Smile Project team member and cannot wait to see what she creates. Without further ado, allow me to introduce Kristen Parry, Creative and Program Manager of The Smile Project.
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Give me a ‘Happiness is.’
Kristen: There’s no better way to start! Happiness is... joining a movement that you know can change the world.
Liz: Tell readers a little about yourself.
Kristen: I’m an optimist who is making the best of every day she has.
Communication has always been a passion of mine in some form or another, so I chose to study that in school. I went to Kent State University where I majored in Public Communication and minored in Global Communication, Interpersonal Communication, and Italian. I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Florence, Italy for a semester, and I had the time of my life. I then accepted a graduate assistantship and worked at Kent State while earning a Master in Global Communication Studies and a Master of Business Administration. I currently work in corporate communications, which encompasses both internal communication and Public Relations.
My hobbies are diverse to say the least… First and foremost, I have an amazing dog named Cayman who takes up a lot of my time. But I enjoy practicing languages - Italian, Spanish, and American Sign Language, to be exact - photography, playing pickleball, tap dancing, cycling - I’m actually a certified spinning instructor - and baking! I like to keep busy.
Liz: How did you first get to know about The Smile Project and what made you want to be involved?
Kristen: Well, I’ve known Liz since middle school, and we were Facebook friends when the very first “Happiness Is” was ever shared (November 9, 2011). It was actually shared on the second anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, and I found it kind of comforting to read something so simply happy that day.
But Liz and I remained friends throughout high school, so I got to see The Smile Project get off the ground. We then personally grew apart at college and beyond, but I always made sure to keep up with what was happening in the project.
On April 11, 2019 I started my own daily gratitude practice, among other personal development practices, and I really felt a change from it. Later in 2019, Liz and I reconnected, and we got to talking about The Smile Project. We shared some ideas for how I could help, and here we are!
Liz: Tell me about your passion for personal development and gratitude work.
Kristen: Gratitude has become a staple in my daily life. By practicing it daily, you’re training your mind to look for small things to be happy about or thankful for. I’ve seen the drastic change in myself from implementing this practice, and I’ll never go back.
To me, personal development is the understanding that you’re enough, just as you are, but you’re a dynamic being and there’s always room to improve. I love to learn, push myself into uncomfortable spaces, and grow from those things. Personal development helps you to be proactive and adapt in each stage of your life in the way you want to rather than react to changes as they happen.
Liz: I know you’re also involved in animal welfare work. Can you talk a little about that?
Kristen: Sure! So I have volunteered with a few different animal welfare organizations in the past, but I am currently affiliated with the Butler County Humane Society as a volunteer. I work with the dogs and go to various events for them. I’d ultimately like to get involved with an organization that helps a wider variety of animals as well. I’ve always loved animals, and it's really rewarding to help those who don’t have their own voice. But I also really love the aspect of seeing an animal grow from the state they enter the shelter into a more confident being who can really showcase their personality and find their place in a family.
Liz: You are so dedicated to bringing light into the world. What is the driving force behind that energy?
Kristen: I honestly went through a few years where I didn’t look for, or find, joy. Actually, it was quite the opposite, and no one that I was seeing in my immediate life was either. I was just existing. When I finally made the choice to reach for more and felt the change it made in my life, two things happened. One, I was just a noticeably happier person. People literally commented that they could sense a change in me. That just radiated on its own. But I also decided to consciously and purposefully share my energy with others in case they need an example of it the way I did.
Liz: What does service mean to you?
Kristen: To me, service is showing up for others - a certain group of people, all people, animals, the environment - and pouring into them. That can manifest in a lot of different ways, but that’s the base of it to me. Offering support, resources, challenging people to think outside of their “regularly scheduled programming,” or simply letting people know they’re heard are the base of the service work I like to do.
Liz: Many folks in The Smile Project community are big readers. What are you currently reading or do you have a favorite book(s) recommendation to share?
Kristen: Of course! So my favorite books are Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis. They’re two of the books that I read when beginning this journey, and I can’t explain how much I value them. A few other books I love are: When Less Becomes More by Emily Ley, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard. I also read a lot of fiction; I love any type of thriller! I’m currently reading Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo and The Library Book by Susan Orlean.
Liz: Anything else you’d like to add?
Kristen: Joy and empathy are powerful. They’re powerful in that you have to learn to work for them, and they can have a tremendous impact on those around you once you do put in that work. Take the time to really learn what makes you truly happy and then feel that happiness when you record something in your gratitude practice. Therein lies the power.
Liz: Lastly, do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice to leave us with?
“If it’s not challenging you, it’s not changing you.” - Rachel Hollis