When you are walking along a busy street, how many people do you notice smiling? 10? 20? 1? There are people on their phones, looking into shop fronts or walking with their heads down, unfocused on the world around them.
‘A Million Smiles’ was formed on the basis of just that – very few people smile anymore, and it’s causing greater repercussions than first thought.
Embarking on a trip around the world to capture a million smiles, we have a quick chat with Mike Worsman about what sparked his inspiration for the project and what a smile means to him personally.
“I had been waiting at a busy pedestrian intersection with a friend (the one in front of Target and Hungry Jacks at the end of the Mall), having just read that loneliness was now the number one cause of depression in Western society.
“At the moment I stood with my friend and looked at all these people around us walking around with their heads down, and not even acknowledging each other, let alone smiling at one another, it hit me that the world was on a dangerous path, where human interaction was becoming something we ‘didn’t have time for’ other than online via sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“It was at this moment that I turned to my friend and said ‘this is not right, I’m going to do something about it – I’m going to make people smile, at me and you and all strangers they come in contact with’. While this was the catalyst and moment that sparked the idea, for many years I had been on a similar journey, writing and producing videos on people who inspire and empower others to create positive change in their lives and the world.
“A million smiles was just a chance to branch out and truly do my own thing, and explore a new angle of how to impact people’s lives through story telling.”
When you smile, your brain actually recognises that you are in-fact, smiling. According to Professor Alex Korb from Psychology Today; “We smile because we’re happy, but we’re also happy because we smile, it’s a two-way street.”
Another thing that Professor Korb mentions is that a smile is also attributed to social feedback. Humans are very interesting organisms and we can mirror emotions of other people using ‘mirror neurons’.
“Smiles are infectious, so even if you don’t feel much happier, the people around you are more likely to smile, and that can improve your mood as well.” So, we asked Mike Worsman about what a smile means to him personally…
“Smiling is the simplest of pleasures, often an unknown desire, used properly they can connect humanity, prevent illness, ignite love, save a life, end war, bring happiness, reunite friends, promote equality, create more smiles and make you the richest person on Earth.
“But that’s not the point, the point is this, they can change your life and that of those you love. At a time in history when we’ve never had it so good I should flourish, and yet, something seems wrong. The beauty of a smile is clear, yet their power is unknown, limitless and overlooked by so many.
“More than anything, what makes me smile is constantly finding time to appreciate what I have and how lucky I am to be alive, let alone living a life where I am able to pursue my passion everyday.”
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“Of course my beautiful girlfriend, colleagues, friends and family bring me great happiness, as well as producing videos and media that help to enhance the lives of others. Ultimately living for others (being altruistic) makes me smile the most, from helping to inspire others, to physically or financially assisting people and more generally just being kind to both strangers and people I know.”
Travelling overseas for Mike was a big decision, but in the end it came down to Mike following his will and his intuition.
“A lot of people might wonder why a 26-year-old who owned a nice house in the suburbs and had a cruisey government job would take such a risk, but to me the greatest danger we face is living a life of mediocrity, when we the privileged are gifted with endless opportunities most would never dream of.
“Call me naïve, but I believe in the good of people, and the will of humanity and the world to guide us on our journey, to the extent that I see no risk involved in undertaking such a big adventure, for if I am being me, and following my own unique experience, that is all I can control.”
Visiting Cambodia first, (which is arguably one of the poorest and most terrorised countries of the modern age; full of corruption, death, poverty and a sex industry that is more confronting than words might express), Mike and his team interviewed sex workers, children living on garbage mounds, and an old farm worker who looked after a stray girl with dying of HIV.
But amongst the darkness they also found light…
“…in all sadness there is hope, and in our nothingness we can see everything…. Or at least that which is important to us. And so, family, friendship and a thirst for life characterized these most down trodden of people, who remarkably smiled more than those crossing the intersection where a million smiles was born.
“It’s as if the light of an iPhone is replaced with that of a smile, as people engage in life together, giving, living and loving as a community.”
Travelling anywhere overseas can change your perspective on life and how appreciative you are of your own. In the Western world, we are blessed to have running water, a roof over our heads and food on the table. Mike’s perspective not only changed from when he went overseas, but his perspective was changed long ago…
“Having had a 1% chance of being conceived and 50% chance of being stillborn, due to my Mum having an IUD (birth control device) in place, I have long held a philosophy of making the most of life.
“Heading on this trip cause my perspective on many things to change, including providing me with an even greater appreciation of being born in a country where I am afforded the opportunity to do what ever I want with my life, if I work hard enough – even if that means travelling the world filming a million people smile.
“Certainly seeing such immense poverty pushed some of the preconceived ideas I had formed in my head, in that I imagined there was a limit to how poor one could be, while still living in happiness. This line, as I saw it shifted further and further towards having little more than enough food to eat and a roof over one’s head, for anything more than this did not necessarily bring more happiness.
“Certainly I think there is an ‘ideal’ level of wealth and opportunity that one needs, but it is far below what I’d thought and probably comes from being a middle class citizen in a developing nation such as Cambodia or Sri Lanka, where the average monthly wage of a family might be around $500-$1000, so not much.”
With more projects in the works for Mike, he hopes to continue to travel the world.
“I’d like to head across the rest of Asia, including our closest neighbours in East Timor and Indonesia, as well as China and Japan.
“I’d also love to head across to the Pacific Islands, as so many people have told me they are a goldmine of happy people, who are living naturally and with a balance that is conducive to smiles. The plan is to then head to Africa and Europe, before finishing with South America, the US and Australia, as we aim to sell the idea and film to the world.”
“If you saw a million people smiling at you, what would you do?”