Straight-forward signs like these – hand-made by Massoud Adibpour, the heart and mind behind the happy initiative, and posted on D. C.’s busy intersections – are the key “weapon” of Make DC Smile. Massoud’s initial spark and inspiration: When walking through a beach-side parking lot in San Diego, California, he noticed that “someone had drawn the words ‘HONK if you love someone’ on the back of a car windshield.” He took a photo of the message – and kept thinking about how he might react confronted with such a message on the road. His conclusion, that it would make him smile, led to a solitary experiment: He decided to stop at a busy crossing and hold up a sign with those exact words.

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In less than two years, what started out as a simple social experiment has turned into a real movement. “Make DC Smile’s success can be measured in many different ways,” explains Massoud. “There are the people directly impacted by our projects, news agencies and organizations who have reported on the initiative or teamed up with us, but most of all there is the impact it has had on our own lives. Promoting positivity and making people happier has, in turn, made us happier people, too.”

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Most of the reactions Massoud and his fellow campaigners get are resoundingly positive. Some people stop, roll down their windows, and thank the sign-holders with a high-five or a warm thank you, while others might even join them for a few minutes. Even city officials are fans of the project. “Dozens of police patrols have waved, smiled, and given us the thumbs up for promoting positivity in the community.” And the few negative responses do not make a dent in Massoud’s positivity. “We have had a total of three people flipping the bird, which can be a little shocking to see, but then again those are probably the people who need our messages the most!” He believes that being positive creates a ripple effect. “If you can make the people in your community happier and help them to feel better about themselves, they will act in a more positive way towards others.”

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While holding signs with positive messages remains an essential part of the project, Make DC Smile also supports plenty of other activities. Take the local flower shop that gave them blooms to hand out to people on their way to work. Each unsuspecting passer-by received two flowers – one to keep and one to hand to someone else. Another project involves a 8×20 ft. chalkboard inscribed with the question, “What makes you smile?” – an ostensibly obvious, but absolutely essential question. “I think that it is important for people to remember and know what makes them happy in life. Some days, we can easily get distracted or forget about what makes us smile.”

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If you would like to participate in this life-affirming campaign, simply check out the events on Make DC Smile’s website or sign up for their Facebook page and Twitter stream. At the same time, Massoud wants to highlight the following. “I don’t want people to think that they have to come to D.C. to get involved. Our goal is for people anywhere in the world to take these projects and inspire those in their community to start similar projects.” All of the campaign’s signs are available for download from the website and Massoud plans to translate them into a wide range of different languages.

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But the signs are only one of many means to spread the word and positivity. To do your bit for beaming faces, just try and smile at people on the street and wait for their reaction. You might be surprised by the result! Who would have guessed that all it takes is an honest smile to improve the lives of those around us – and our own?

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Text: Alexandra Schade
Header image: bit.it/ photocase.com
All other images: Make DC Smile