Jaden Hayes from Winterville, Georgia was 4 years old when his father passed away. It was devastating. Two years later, his mother died unexpectedly in her sleep after putting him to bed.
There’s no word known to mankind that could possibly describe that kind of grief asked of a little boy to bear. But Jaden is no ordinary boy.
“Anybody can die—just anybody,” Jaden told CBS News in a 2015 interview. That was the beginning of a mindset that would carry Jaden, and literally millions of others, through one of the most difficult times in life: when we lose a loved one.
Jaden had one unexpected wish.
A couple weeks after his mother passed and his family had attended her viewing and funeral, Jaden went up to Barbara DiCola, his temporary guardian, and told her something.
He said he was tired of seeing everybody so sad all the time!
He asked DiCola to purchase an assortment of small toys so he could bring them to downtown Savannah, Georgia. He wanted to give them away to strangers. Why?
“Well, I’m trying to make people smile,” he said.
“Rubber duckies, dinosaurs…” said Jaden. Because he knew those things would make people smile!
Jaden demonstrated what happened to people’s faces when he gave these cute little toys away.
“And that was the beginning of it,” DiCola said. “That’s where the adventure began.”
He got more than smiles in return.
The plan was about as simple as it could be. Jaden walked the streets of Savannah with DiCola and tried to put a smile on the faces of ordinary people. He specifically targeted people who weren’t smiling already. He figured those were the people that needed it most.
And, just like Jaden had hoped, it worked. He also learned that the reaction he was looking for didn’t always resemble exactly what he had in mind, but that was just fine with Jaden. Some were overwhelmed by this little boy’s mission.
Their reactions? A smile. Perhaps a hug if the receiver was so moved. And even tears of happiness and compassion.
He’s still a little sad, but that’s to be expected.
“But I’m still sad my mom died,” Jaden said. However, he acknowledged that the hugs and smiles, and even the tears helped him feel a little better.
Jaden came up with a defined goal for his mission.
“I’m counting on it to be 33,000,” Jaden said. That’s an awful lot of smiles, but Jaden added, “I think I can reach it.”
He probably already has.
Happiness is a journey.
Two years later, Jaden now says that he does still think about his mom and dad, but he’s doing “pretty good.”
Tapping into the wisdom of an 8-year-old is best done by asking. So, when he was asked, how do you get from pretty sad to a little happier? He answered, “Time.”
He has some new goals…but the same smile!
Jaden has other goals he’s looking forward to as well. After all, there are decades of life in front of him. So although his smile project has been put on a temporary hold, he hopes to get back to it one day while he focuses on becoming a famous basketball player AND a famous baseball player.
Jaden may not know it yet, but he’s still firmly entrenched in providing the world with more smiles, just by being himself!