By Melissa Martz
Two years ago in 2010, life was going extremely well for Jim Moss. Moss was a professional lacrosse player in San Jose, California (he has since relocated to Waterloo, Ontario), had won several world championships, a gold medal, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was affectionately called by fans and friends “The Ax”. In September 2009, while running up the side of a mountain training for the upcoming season, all of a sudden he began losing the feeling in his hands and feet. Within 24 hours, he had lost complete feeling in these parts and could not walk; it took him six weeks to relearn how to walk. Moss had contracted TBD Neuro Muscular Disease. He was in hospital for one month. Still now, every 6-10 weeks, this mysterious disease returns for 7-21 days.
Rather than wallowing in self pity, Moss discovered the importance of four traits: Gratitude, Optimism, Resilience and Hopefulness. He began a blog about these traits, and The Smile Epidemic was born. The Smile Epidemic is a digital, visual and collective gratitude journal to exchange happiness and positive emotions. He is known as The Chief Happiness Officer. The Smile Epidemic has brushed through the world like wildfire making contact in 150 countries and 475 cities, catching the interest of people like Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins and Deepak Chopra (Dr. Wayne Dyer’s best friend). Jim’s wife, Jennifer, says, “We had no idea that it would take off in the way that it did. It was a tool to keep us all focused on the positive after Jim went into the hospital but it seems to have resonated with people.”
The Mosses have spoken at Ignite Charity and Ignite Health, Random Acts of Kindness Day and TEDxMississauga. In 2013, they are slated to present at the Laurier Student Leadership Conference, SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas and Canada 3.0 among others. “We authentically care about The Smile Epidemic and work hard to make sure that the experience on our blog and our social channels represent that authenticity. We are now hiring a community manager to help support the growth and the launch of our app in January will help keep the growth manageable” said Moss.
What Jim asks of others is: “Lend me your smile, and I’ll return it to you with interest.” He proposes that you take the 30 days of Happiness Project, which involves taking a photo of yourself holding a list of what makes you smile. It could be, for example, fresh air, apple pie, sleeping in, relaxing hair wash, a good book, fall colours, whatever. Post your photos on The Smile Epidemic’s website and share your smile with Jim and the world. Your photo will help bring joy to others, and pick them up if they are having a down day; start an epidemic of smiling. Jim says, “Capitalism runs on the theory of free market choice = lowest price resulting in happiness.” I disagree. If you do not have love, health, food and shelter, you can not have any of these. Happiness is more powerful than money will ever be.
The Smile Epidemic in Schools program is a special project for Jim and Jennifer. The primary benefits of gratitude are an increase in optimism, resilience, hopefulness and happiness. The long-term impact is highly beneficial when we increase these four traits in youth.
Studies of children who participate in programs that are focused on positive psychology experience the following benefits:
- Reduction and prevention of symptoms of depression;
- Reduction in hopelessness;
- Prevention of clinical levels of depression and anxiety;
- Reduction and prevention of anxiety;
- Reduction in conduct problems;
- Improvement in health-related behaviours, with young adults who complete the program having fewer symptoms of physical illness, fewer doctor visits, better diet and more exercise.
The Smile Epidemic has come at the perfect time, when many people, because of stress and busy lifestyles, refrain from smiling. This initiative has filled that void, similar to when Dale Carnegie published, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in 1936. Carnegie devoted a full chapter on the importance and need for smiling, writing: “Happiness doesn’t depend on outward conditions, it depends on inner conditions…your smile is a messenger of good will. Your smile brightens the lives of all who see it. To someone who has seen a dozen people frown, scowl, or turn their faces away, your smile is like a sun breaking through the clouds.”
In a nutshell: Always SMILE!