Back in 2008 Ruth Kaiser was a preschool teacher with an offbeat hobby. She took photos of Smiley Faces she found in everyday objects. Ruth found Smileys in food, on cars, on clothes, in nature, well, everywhere. When she joined Facebook to spy on her kids to have a window on the world of her perfect children, she began posting her Spontaneous Smileys there. Soon people were posting the Smileys they’d found and The Spontaneous Smiley Project, with facebook’s international audience, was born.
Fast forward 6 years and Ruth’s online art project, SpontaneousSmiley.com, now involves tens of thousands of people worldwide being silly and laughing at the little things. The project is as much about finding happiness, as it is about finding Smiley Faces. What was at first, just a place to share photos, has developed into a joyful online community. And amazingly the websites gotten nearly 18 million clicks!!
People were forever asking Ruth how she got to be so darned happy and so she began blogging as the Smiley Lady. Here she shares her observations about choosing to view life more optimistically. A frequent speaker to school groups (where she’s so nervous she barley makes it through) and blogger on top mindfulness websites, like Vivid Life and Positively Positive, as well as parenting websites such as DrGreene.com. Ruth hopes to engage children and adults in a discussion about choosing our outlook and thus our way of interacting with others.
To that end she wrote a child’s book of optimism called A Smiley Book of Colors (Random House 2012). Dozens of Ruth’s Smiley photos illustrate a rhyming text about choosing happiness. Ruth’s next books, a child’s gratitude journal called A Smiley Book of Numbers, a child’s book of gratitude called ‘Twas the Night Before…, and To Be a Friend, How do I do that? Ruth is also working on a book about being a gentle parent.
Ruth’s project began getting noticed (press from Beijing to Brazil, a piece on the CBS Evening News, a write up on OPRAH.com, BrainPicking, etc., and in “Personal Branding for Dummies” Ruth’s little happiness project is sandwiched between Steve Job‘s little computer company and Mark Zuckerberg‘s little social network. Oh, and Ruth was thrilled to give the world’s goofiest TED Talk. The list of media outlets is long; no need to bore you.). She even had lunch with Oprah! Twice. In 2009, Ruth decided to hook all that enthusiasm up with a charity and partnered with Operation Smile which gives children smiley-er lives by providing free surgeries for children with facial deformities such as cleft palates. Each time a Smiley is uploaded to her website, a $1 donation is made to Operation Smile. To date Spontaneous Smiley has funded 38 surgeries, one Smiley photo at a time. How can a school teacher possibly keep the $1 a Smiley pledge alive? With the help of the Spontaneous Smiley community! Ruth posted that she’d cover the donations until the first surgery was earned but would need others to step up to keep it going. Much to her delight they did! From dental offices, to Smiley contributors, to an entire Elementary school going on a Smile-a-Thon (like a walk-a-thon but here kids get sponsors by the SMILE instead of by the MILE) the pledge lives on.
In 2013 Ruth went on her first medical mission with Operation Smile. In March she spent 10 days in Paraguay with Operation Smile on a medical mission where 100 children received new smiles. In June of 2014 Ruth headed to the Philippines to once again volunteer on a medical mission for Operation Smile as part of a mega-mission giving smiles to more than 700 children and adults (Yes, adults are also helped whenever the schedule allows. Read a story sure to make you cry about a young man and the woman he wanted to marry.). She’s soon headed to Chiapas, Mexico on another medical mission.
Want to be a part of all this silliness and fun? Everyone is welcome at Spontaneous Smiley. Upload a Smiley and become an Official Smiley Captain—there’s something to make your résumé stand out!. Or just stop by and check out the Smiley Gallery. If you’re able to pitch in, donate to Operation Smile here so that your gift is credited to Ruth’s fundraising effort. And to quote the Smiley Lady:
Smile. Be happy. It’s a choice you can choose. Give it a try– You’ve got nothing to loose.