Soul Food: Will Work for Smiles

He quit his job to pursue his bucket list full-time. His friends and family thought he was crazy but it wasn’t that. He was on the brink of happiness and his ultimate destiny.

“It’s cool that the very first item on my bucket list spawned so much more and I’ve been able to complete other items on the list because of the project” Massoud Adibpour, 31, founder of “Make DC Smile,” said.
“Make DC Smile” is a social movement created to foster positivity in the city. The latest project features handmade positive affirmation posters made by a group of high school students from Canada. Adibpour recently did a speaking engagement with the students and continues to use every opportunity to encourage people to pay positivity forward. He believes energy -negative or positive- can be infectious. He made the decision to remain focused on the positive about two years ago. This was a different turn from the emotions he was experiencing as a recent grad in a seemingly comfortable job with a government contractor.

“I was depressed at some point because I was unhappy with my job and where I was at,” he said. “I know people may experience that all the time or a sense of depression at some point but we don’t know what people are going through. Someone could be having the worst day of their life and we would never know it.”

Outside his own personal struggles to find happiness, Adibpour knew he wasn’t the only person. He lost friends to suicide. At this point, happiness became a life or death situation for him and uncovering the source of true happiness was necessary for his survival. Consequently, he had to leave his well-paying but ultimately unfulfilling job. He was miserable.
His bucket list became his life’s guide. He literally carries the document in his wallet everywhere he goes. This list was not just any list, but a100 item, personal life-giving challenge that provided opportunities for growth and true fulfillment.

The first challenge he took on from the list was to go outside and hold up signs with positive messages on them at a busy cross section in traffic. The signs read things like: ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself,’ ‘Today is awesome,’ ‘You’re someone’s reason to smile.’
He admits that the first five minutes were nerve-wracking and he had thoughts of leaving but he stayed and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
“People started honking their horns, waving, smiling, rolling down their windows and giving us high fives,” he said. “It felt really good.”

In just one hour, Adibpour discovered the key to receiving happiness was to dish it out. He’s been hooked ever since and has even gotten his friends to join in. In just two years, the movement has amassed nearly 3,000 friends on Facebook and he continues to lead various ‘pay it forward’ social gestures.
Adibpour has been featured in various publications being dubbed the ‘Prince of Peace’ by the Washington Post and also invited to speak at many local schools, colleges and even a TED Talk. Similar ‘smile’ movements have been started in Canada and Austrailia through Adibpour’s travels. He has spent months at a time traveling abroad to China, South Asia, Germany, Holland, the Philippines and Australia. Traveling has been a huge influence on his personal journey to happiness.
“I was learning about cultures,” Adibpour said. “A lot of us get our opinions from the news and the media and it’s awful because when I go to these countries I see that not everyone is going to be like that [media stereotypes] there’s a lot of negative stuff on the TV and in the newspapers. I just wanted to go and see things for myself.”
He says he needed travel time to form his own opinions and develop thoughts about what was most important in his life. He feels many people don’t take much time for that level of reflection and self-care. He referenced how other countries have a gap year for students between high school and college. American culture typically follows the culture of getting education, finding a job and starting a family. While Adibpour recognizes all of those things as important he believes there is so much more to life.

“It’s a balance to choose to work to live or live to work,” he said.

Adipour took a leap and made the choice to let his passion fuel his work and life. The “Make DC Smile” movement is still growing strong. Not only can you see the handmade affirmation signs all over the District, he also plans to set up a note card station on the street near a post box for people to stop by and send a note of affirmation to someone they know. The projects are usually small but effective. If you’re out and stumble across a project, don’t be afraid to stop and participate. Adibpour says it’s all about the little things.

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