Why did you start The Smile Project? someone asked me recently. I wasn’t sure if they wanted the short answer or the long answer but before I could decide, muscle memory was leaving my lips.
You see, I didn’t mean to start a nonprofit. I was 17-years-old, a senior in high school, and driving home at the end of the day down the same windy country roads I’d ridden on my entire life. It was unusually warm for November in western Pennsylvania so I had my windows down and my radio up. That’s when I had a really clear thought which was “Day 1: Happiness is.. those perfect car rides where the radio just plays all the right songs.” When I got home, like any 17-year-old in 2011 who thinks they have an idea that’s going to change the world, I posted that on Facebook. I just kind of kept doing that. Actually, this Friday will be 4,000 days of sharing “Happiness is.” So anyway, I left for university and—
They cut me off. Wait, 4,000 days? As in, you’re still doing this?
Oh, uhm, yes. And before they could say anything else, I jumped into what our current programming looks like and how I see the organization growing and moving forward in the future. But once more, they asked:
So you’ve posted 4,000 times about Happiness?
Well, on Friday, yes, it will be 4,000 days.
How do you quantify 4,000? How do you wrap your head around 4,000 days? 10.9589 years. Four thousand moments of simple joy.
It’s hard to separate the act of sharing Happiness is from the work that The Smile Project does today as it is such an integral part of our origin story and such a defining characteristic of the person I have grown into. When I speak publicly about The Smile Project, I always talk about how I almost stopped two weeks in, fully convinced I’d covered everything.
I also talk about how I wanted to stop 100 or so days in when I had a bad day. Or how a hundred or so days after that, I thought about throwing in the towel when I was particularly upset about something. Or how a thousand days after that I wondered why I was even bothering documenting joy.
And yet, nearly 11 full years later, I’m still documenting Happiness and oftentimes that is met with a fair question: Why?
I’ve spent years rolling over this question in my head, in interviews, and with loved ones and the simplest answer I can come to is this: I haven’t seen every sunset yet.
I spend maybe 5 minutes a day writing each post in my notebook, copying it across our social media platforms, and adding it to the digital database. Pretty low time commitment.
But I spend every other waking minute seeing sunsets. The rest of my day is spent relishing in Happiness because I know that if I want to share some joy by midnight, my eyes will need to be open.
And they have been. For nearly 4,000 beautiful days, my eyes have been opened in ways they simply weren’t 4,100 days ago. I am beyond grateful for the ways this simple action has transformed my life. And I am beyond grateful for everyone who has been on this journey with me.
Ready to start your own Happiness is adventure? Consider joining the Smile Project Ambassador Program. Learn more at the-smile-project.com/ambassador.