The world smiles back


POSTED: Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Readers say they want happy stories, but those of us in the press constantly observe the opposite: Bad news and disasters sell more papers and magazines than any happy-day occurrences.

But Ruth Kaiser has made finding happiness in everyday situations her mission. Specifically, she's always on the lookout for happy faces on inanimate objects. If you look hard enough, you'll start seeing them, too, on anything from strawberries and onions to boxes, rocks and trees.

“;It could be as simple as a dead centipede that lines up with some chewed-up gum,”; said Kaiser, who considers herself a happy person and grew up in the 1970s, when the bright-yellow smiley face was plastered everywhere. “;Anytime you see two circles together, it's likely you'll find a smiley face,”; she said. “;The best are the ones that come upon you by accident. It provides a moment of delight.”;

Kaiser can often be found in her California neighborhood, on her hands and knees on a sidewalk, under a table or standing on top of her car to document another randomly occurring smiley face.

Kaiser started the online Spontaneous Smiley Project so that others could share their experiences with smiley faces. The project has thousands of people photographing and posting smiley faces that they have found in odd or unexpected places.

In doing so, Kaiser has gained some celebrity back home. Several schools in her area have adopted lesson plans revolving around the Web site to teach art and photography classes. During a recent orthodontist visit, she was spotted by a teenage girl who exclaimed, “;Oh my god, you're the smiley lady. I just did my current events project on you.”;

She hopes that her project will continue to stir excitement. “;It's a feel-good kind of thing. It caught on quickly,”; she said, adding it is perfect for our short-attention-span culture. Rather than seethe while stuck in traffic or getting impatient waiting in line, searching for smiley faces gives people something positive to focus on, she explained.

“;It's sad that many people aren't paying attention to life ... to notice the things that can make us happy,”; she said. “;It's important to take time to enjoy the life that you are living.”;

She divides people into two categories: porous and Teflon.

“;Porous folks soak up all of the goodness and find happiness even in distressing situations. If you are coated with Teflon, there is so much that you are missing. Some people are oblivious to the beauty that surrounds them; they choose not to participate in this unique experience.”;

She started the project simply out of love for photography while taking advantage of the Internet and social media to find a broader audience for her positive message. It also suited her philosophy of embracing opportunities that can provide a good laugh.

Some of the photos Kaiser receives are obviously staged. Some people have suggested removing those shots.

“;I figure that when they created the shot, they were happy, like using a banana for a mouth and two apples for eyes. It could get people to chuckle and that's what really matters.”;

She plans to continue to collect smiley faces and hopes to one day compile them in a coffee-table book and put them on mugs, calendars, coasters and other memorabilia.

Kaiser carries a camera everywhere she goes. Her boyfriend has been trained to snap smiley-face photographs regularly, too.

Kaiser feels grateful to have so many things to smile about. “;I'm sappy. I'm corny. And I'm proud of it.”;


On the Net:

» www. spontaneoussmiley.com


Search for smiley faces

Local residents can submit their own smiley-face photographs for the Star-Bulletin's Hawaii Smiley Contest. E-mail entries to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) by July 14.

Artwork must be of inanimate objects and original. The top entries will be published in a future issue of the Star-Bulletin, and all entries might be posted on Ruth Kaiser's www.spontaneoussmiley.com Web site. The top three winners will receive T-shirts bearing their winning entry.