Two years ago, 6-year-old Jaden Hayes lost his father. Last month, his mother died in her sleep after tucking him into bed.
But the Georgia first grader is not letting the tragedy define him. He wanted people to know him for his smile, instead, so in July he set out on a mission, dubbed #TheSmileExperiment, to share his smile and hopefully get one in return.
"After attending a funeral and a viewing, and seeing all these grownups walking around and nobody was smiling, he just got tired of people with sad, frowny faces," Barbara DiCola, his mother's sister, told Today.com. "He really wanted to make people smile and so asked me, how we could make people do that."
In July, DiCola took Jaden to downtown Savannah, Georgia, looking for friendly faces. Jaden approached at least 275 people during their two outings, giving out trinkets in exchange for a grin.
DiCola's daughter, Tasha Compton, has been keeping track of Jaden's "smile giveaways" on her Instagram. The experiment took off when others started sharing photos of themselves using #thesmileexperiment. By Wednesday morning there were 1,339 posts tagged with the hashtag.
"He's just a ray of sunshine. He's always been like that. It exudes from him," DiCola's told Today.com