More than a grin: Worcester celebrates World Smile Day

More than a grin: Worcester celebrates World Smile Day
Barnestorming: A happy visit to a cemetery
The smiley face, conceptualized in 1963 by Harvey Ball, quickly became one of the most well-known symbols across the world.

Throughout the years, however, Ball became increasingly worried about the over-commercialization of his symbol and how its original meaning and intent had become lost in the constant repetition of the marketplace.

Throughout the years, however, Ball became increasingly worried about the over-commercialization of his symbol and how its original meaning and intent had become lost in the constant repetition of the marketplace.

With that in mind, Ball started the World Smile Day, where we would all collectively devote one day a year to smiles and acts of kindness throughout the world. 

The smiley face knows no politics, no geography and no religion. Balls idea was that, for at least once a year, neither should we.

The smiley face, conceptualized in 1963 by Harvey Ball, quickly became one of the most well-known symbols across the world.

Therefore, he declared that the first Friday in October each year would be recognized as World Smile Day. 

Ever since the first World Smile Day was held in 1999, its been celebrated every year in Balls hometown of Worcester and around the world.

After his death in 2001, the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation was created to honor his name and legacy. The foundation continues as the official sponsor of World Smile Day every year.

Now, every time World Smile Day rolls around, we can all “Do an act of kindness [and] help one person smile!”

When I visit a cemetery, I rarely smile. I am more apt to be holding my breath and needing to remind myself to breathe.

Thursday, I found myself in a cemetery with a smile spreading across my face. I couldnt help it. I was visiting Harvey Balls grave.

Some of you may not know him by name, but Harvey, a Worcester resident, touched the lives of almost everyone in this country and many worldwide in the most positive way. He was the inventor of the Smiley face. Smiley faces adorn the Ball gravestone, but I was smiling thinking about Harvey and what he has meant to the world

Im not someone who gets too excited about celebrities. When Tony Bennett comes to town, or Bill Murray, I might get tickets to the show, but I am not looking for a selfie with them. I did not take a selfie at Harvey Balls grave either, but he is the kind of celebrity I get excited about.

When most people invent something that is reproduced hundreds of millions, probably billions of times, they expect to cash in, and it is a big deal and probably results in a few lawsuits as others try to get in on the action. Smiley faces have probably been reproduced more times than the Bible. The smiling and frowning emojis are more ubiquitous than the presidents tweets. Smileys are everywhere. Wal-Mart uses them, the Smiley emojis in cell phones are used by people dozens of times to indicate their friends have a cute cat or it is great that they had a nice meal at a local restaurant. They are on shirts, often followed by the words, “Have a great day!”

The commercialization of things happens so quickly that you sometimes forget the original intent. The Smiley was never intended as a commercial product. It was inended to raise morale in a workforce facing change. It worked as intended, but soon was out of control of the person who invented it. To the public it was something new. To others it was worth a lot of money.

I can remember when I bought my first Smiley face button when I was in college. I thought it was the coolest thing, but I never learned until years later a local guy invented it.

With Smiley faces and Smiley emojis everywhere, it is easy to imagine the person who invented such an iconic character would be wealthy.

The best part of the story is Harvey was never someone who felt he was put on the earth to chase after money.

He was a man of modest means. He raised a family of four children on a commercial artists salary and, according to his son, Charlie, never regretted not cashing in on the Smiley face. Charlie said his father created World Smile Day as a reaction to the over-commercialization of the Smiley. Not only was Harvey a kind and creative man, he was also a war hero.

Long before he created the Smiley, Harvey served with the Army during World War II. He fought in the battles of Leyte and Okinawa. Okinawa, one of the most brutal battles of the war, shaped Harveys vision of life. During a mortar attack, a shell landed a few feet away from him, killing three others. He walked away and returned home with the attitude that every day is a gift. He was also awarded the Bronze Star for heroism during the battle.

An experience like that can make or break a person, and it made Harvey Ball the type of person we remember, a friendly, modest artist with a great idea. Harvey stayed on with the National Guard after the war, serving 27 years, and retiring a brigadier general. After he retired, he joined the Army Reserves, serving six years and retiring a full colonel.

I never met Harvey Ball, but people I know who did, they say the same thing: he was a nice man who genuinely cared about the legacy he created. The original Smiley only had a mouth, but Harvey added eyes to ensure people would not just turn it upside down and create a frown. He was a positive man and wanted a positive message. He wanted people to smile and treat others with kindness and friendliness. He never got rich. He never had money to burn, but what he had was better.


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