April 22, 2019

By SARAH VEENSTRALauraBlackSmile

What will it take to make you smile? It’s a simple question that requires a simple answer: a happy memory.

Perhaps sometimes society forgets about how little they really need to be happy. Or at least for a smiling moment.

On Feb. 23, Conestoga College hosted the Smile Epidemic, an event solely dedicated to making the students of Conestoga smile by asking them to recall a memory that triggers a happy reaction.
“Student Life has been focusing on the value of a smile at Conestoga College since at least 2010,” said Laura Black, Student Life programmer for community initiatives at Conestoga College’s Doon campus and co-ordinator for the event. “The Smile Epidemic has been a meaningful event for our Respect Campaign, which is why we continue to host it once a year. The Smile Epidemic itself though is much bigger than just our college.”

The Smile Epidemic was founded by Brampton-born, Jim Moss. In 2009, the professional lacrosse player lost feeling in his hands and co-ordination in his legs and within the following 24 hours, Moss lost his ability to walk.

Doctors at a hospital in California diagnosed Moss with a rare autoimmune disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome that forced him to relearn how to walk.
Refusing to look at the dark side, Moss embraced the light, starting a blog that looked at the positives in his life. In six weeks, Moss was up and walking with the aid of two arm canes, a win that his doctors attributed to his positive attitude.

Currently holding a PhD in social psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University, Moss started the Smile Epidemic in order to get everyone else to look at the positives in their own lives.
“February can be a difficult time of year,” said Black. “Midterms, dreary winter weather and compounding stressors. We use the Smile Epidemic as a way to keep people energized following their winter semester break and to build community on campus. It’s easy to feel isolated with all our troubles. It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of our lives and this is a way to bring light to the positive aspects that we may not think about as much.”

The event provided awareness of the benefits of smiling, positivity and gratitude that have been scientifically researched.

“It was an all-day event,” said Kelly Annets, a Respect intern for Student Life and second-year recreation and leisure student. “However, if a student would like to spread positivity and smiles another day, we are more than happy to support any ideas. Participating in the event last year was so fun. I found it uplifting, and engaging other students gave me a sense of belonging and appreciation for the littler things in life.”

So what makes Black smile?

“My happiest memory was the day I was married last year and I smiled ear-to-ear for 24 hours straight, knowing that I was surrounded by true love,” said Black. “Smiling was not always so easy for me. Personally, I experience clinical depression and faking a smile has become a routine while I try to uphold my bubbly self. Eventually though, your cheeks start to hurt and fake smiles fade. Real smiles became my goal in life. I would surround myself with others who expressed joy and took care of myself by acknowledging that I don’t always have to be happy. Being in a dark place made the smiles seem so far away but it made me value them so much more. I’m now in a much better place and I’m so grateful everyday for the real smile I can now share with others in hopes that their smile will come easier too.”

It’s time to ask yourself, what will make you smile today?

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