The Smile Game

There’s a trick we do sometimes as a family when we need a BOOST of silliness and happiness. It gives us a little fun interacting with the rest of the world as well as an awareness of the millions of emotions humans have at any moment. We call it the smiling game, and here’s how it works….

The first player to get ten people to smile back to you WINS.

This is fun family competition and entertainment. My kids get creative, helpful, understanding, and have learned ideas on how to and how not to approach people. How to read moods. It is significantly better than being forced to go door to door selling electricity rates, cookies, or bike-a thon donations while teaching them many of those same life lessons they would receive from that sort of drudgery.

It’s that simple. Go out and Play.

If you’re interested in how we came up with this idea (work buddies) and some real-life applications on how we use this as the Zoo Crew, and how it failed one Christmas, or want to see some tips we use as our own family to keep generating smiles…well please, keep reading

Where have all the smiles gone?

Some days our family is just “on point.” Today was that day. We were having fun. Giggling, Laughing, no fights or negativity on the drive back from a 3 win soccer day. My kids were actually complimenting each other (!) and we were enjoying a fantastic day of being together.

Sounds easy, but All of you out there that have “more-than-one-kid” instantly realize this doesn’t happen every single day.

Yeah, maybe your Instagram posts a perfect little family. Mine is pretty great as well, but in REALITY, the older brothers know what buttons to push to make their little sisters go crazy. The younger brother is going to whine about something that wasn’t fair. That just happens. But today was not that day.

Now truth be told, Nikki and I are both pretty funny. We don’t have to work that hard to make our kids laugh. Although they tend to think I am full of a bunch of lame dad jokes, for the most part I can get my kids to crack a smile even on their worst day. And there we were. The postcard-perfect family of smiles and content-ness.

It felt good. It was just one of these days.

 OK, I’ve set the mood, now on to the story…

The kids are kind of weird, as you’ll see the more you hang with me online and they wanted to stop at the grocery for sushi.   Look, I know good sushi. And I know that the best sushi doesn’t come from grocery stores. But, in a pinch… my kids seem to like this stuff so let’s just continue the good day and give the kids what they want.

So, “I’ll take you to HEB and we’ll all get some sushi.”

 I observe a lot – It’s the awareness I try to push for so many aspects of life. You didn’t have to be a detective to figure out this afternoon, something seemed out of place. 

Within a minute it was obvious.  That something was us.  We were out of place.   I told my family, especially the kids to just look around. Observe.  “Can you solve the mystery of what’s wrong today in here?” 

Nobody was smiling.

We were just bouncing around the store, energetic and care-free but the rest of the store was like an episode out of the Twilight Zone.  Erie. Like a scary movie. It honestly felt just… creepy.

Nobody; not ONE soul was smiling.    Not a store clerk, not a customer, not the drivers in the parking lot we had just walked past.

Being who I am, I made a game out of it –   “This place is just off today guys, let’s change that. How about a round of..


I challenged my family to make someone smile. 

Pay it Forward.  Who doesn’t love kids? Especially my kids, the Zoo Crew?! (see tip#5 below!)

The result?

Nada, Zilch. I mean, “COME ON PEOPLE!”

It’s Christmas time!    Everyone I know talks about spreading CHEER and most folks I know have decorative wooden signs at their homes saying “JOY” and “LOVE” and  “‘’Tis the season.

So where is the love and the JoyBombs? It’s Christmas time and it’s GONE!

So what’s up?

My guess is it’s all been blown up so much we just have built up a tolerance to it.  It’s like sugar and caffeine. 

 Some = Good

Too much = Backfire

The ad’s, the pressure,, the expectation that we need to be amped up happy like Will Ferrel on ELF 24/7…crazy, giddy, borderline wild.

So where is the mystery I need to solve?  Someone or someTHING has stolen the smiles. Where are they?

As an amateur detective I have to start with leads and follow a direction.

I am 100% positive you won’t find it in the bottom of that paper sack full of french fries. If the grocery store is any indication, it’s not in the millions of yummy, chocolates and nummy’s they have stocked.     Doesn’t seem to be in the lines either, not the TV’s nor the toys…

It’s lost.  

I think that trying to find happiness and smiles is what is most likely, the actual problem. 

 We’re looking too hard.  We’re trying to FIND it but it’s lost and probably tough to find. 

My take?  Forget finding it.  Forget trying to Pay it forward.   You know what I teach my kids?

If you want to be happy, it’s up to you and you alone.  You have to simply create more.

First off, realize this pursuit of happiness is in vain – it’s not out there floating around obtained by some enlightened few and just out of reach to the uninitiated.  You definitely can’t judge happiness by what you see or how people act, and 10x that for social media.

example:  The posts I left on Facebook were at a great time in my life and I looked my best- it’s not EPIC with my family every second. Heck, I picked up dog poop in the backyard today and even yelled at my kids last night on the way home…it’s not always perfect!

 Happiness and smiles are fleeting and on and off but mostly function as a small trickle, like a garden hose left half turned on, to be soaked up by the dinner plate dahlias and starfighter lilies.  On a scale of 1-10 we all naturally gravitate towards a 7.(Note to self, internal link to another article on site about being a 7, if Chad has one. Can also link to another one of his sites if it is there instead.)

 So when you feel like a ten – it’s a surge.  It’s the crest of a wave.

If you want a boost, then you have to create some waves!   

 “Happiness” sells more books than “get-rich” books.  It’s the thing Americans demand more than any single product.   It’s a gazillion dollar industry.   

Just like I’m telling you, this is what we try to teach our kids – stop chasing THINGS you think make you happy.   CREATE it.   Like mining for crypto, you can just make some up.

Here are a few cheats on creating happiness. We try to instill these ideas in our family. 

Some simple tricks to CREATE Happiness

1) To be happy, you only need to do something nice for someone else.

Seriously – it’s that easy.  Make somebody else happy and it pays back 1.5 – like Blackjack.  Even if it’s just the smugness of anonymously buying the next guy in line a coffee. As much as the intent may be to make the next guy happy, I’d bet that YOU will ride that crest of secrecy and goodness for a while. The longer you keep it a secret and don’t tell your friends the longer you ride it.

 On that point, a little smugness can go a long way.  Feeling good about doing something good for someone else is OK.  It’s to be savored.   We’re talking happiness, you did it just as much for YOU as you did it for someone else.   I’m ok with that.  It beats lurching around pissy all day.

Heck, if I really get into it with my kids when they are being mean to each other, I’ll sit them down and MAKE THEM SAY 3 nice things to each other.   THEY HATE IT!   For about 7 seconds and then they start laughing and joking around.  I’m telling you.  Kindness works and MORE of it is needed in this world.

2) Finish Something

Ask my wife…I will have a crappy weekend unless I have some sort of manual labor task to accomplish.  It can be as easy as changing a bike tube on the kids’ ride or planting a new tree or seed. Give me a man project like Christmas Lights or chain saw a few branches and my weekend is made!    If you are skilled and talented enough to actually have a craft, such as my brother in law Nelly…(he’ll make you outdoor chairs with matching fire pit while sharing a Coors with you over an afternoon)..well if you have that kind of skills – you can basically turn your fleeting happiness wave into high tide.   Ride that pony for hours and days.

And that’s for me!   You want your kids beaming?   Let them nail a task.  You know how excited they get when they unload the dishwasher?  Really, you disagree? Then why do they remind me they did it 5x and tell mom the second she walks in the door.? Yeah that payback 1.5…it’s an actual thing.

3) Play

Just brush off all the other “crap” that’s “so important” in your life for a while and play with your kids and/or pets.  Throw a ball, play some hoops, hide and seek, whatever.   Do it. The kids already have this smile/fun thing figured out. It doesn’t have to last for hours and hours,it just has to be right now. 

Kids enjoy their fun in 5 minute segments and are just fine with that.   The problem does not arise until the teenage years through our, let’s say 70’s to 90’s, as we are certain that we felt fun nonstop, all through our youth and we want to get that feeling back.  But, We didn’t.  But you almost surely will when you are just playing for the fun of it.   

You know those cool parents that are hiding (hide and seek not avoidance) from their kids when you go over to visit or are trying to skateboard or are taking pride in getting their butts handed to them in front yard basketball?  Yeah? Be that parent.  

Play works nearly all the time. (Bonus Hint: Play time is not Coach Time. Just Play.)

4) Create a mild sensation change

This is simple.    Cold shower, Loud 90’s rock or my recent favorite, Wear headphones at the grocery store.   I know,we all hate those dudes that have their ears plugged in public but, just for a smile, try it.    Shopping to your own playlist is life altering.

Crazy isn’t it – it’s like having a secret.   Bonus smiles if its 90’s Gangsta Rap that curses or crazy fun music like Bert Kaemfert.   

5) Tag, you’re it

Play the smile game – first one to make 10 people smile wins.   

This is the game we started at the grocery store.  WE had a blast and laughed so hard we nearly cried.  Small dares and possibly some impromptu dance moves.

I’d love to tell you we changed the world but sadly, NO.  We may have brightened a few people’s day but there were plenty that remained pissy and grumpy…which honestly, was even more funny for all of us.  Remember my rules, YOU create YOUR happiness.   

That checkbox, we definitely NAILED!   


Note:  I didn’t include tips such as “buy something for yourself”, “supersize that sucker”, “get the car, you deserve it.”

Despite all we are promised from the commercials, I’m fairly positive you can’t buy happiness.

Being fair,  tangible things may indeed bring you some brief joy and a smile.  I’d smile if I was driving down the beach in a new red convertible corvette but, being true to myself, that’s one crazy expensive dose of fun and joy.  Most likely it’s actually what I refer to as “two sided fun” meaning there’s a strong possibility of second thought and even regret that comes with it.

A lot of purchases for fun and thrills are this variety. And therein lies our dilemma.    I think as a society, heck, as humans- we chase the idea of purchasing our joy. Because dopamine works.  It’s the positive feedback loop that I’m sure Pavlov was talking about.

However, it’s dry and too turbulent.   It’s fleeting. It’s got too many swings with ups and downs. It’s instant gratification and simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  This article is about simplicity, it’s not about hard work, cost and energy.

It’s definitely not about guilt from fast food, and pains and aches of long term bad decision making and expensive purchases that don’t pay off long term.

It’s just as simple as smiling more.   That’s all.

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