The Novel Turtle Presents: Q&A with Mark Borella, a.k.a. The Seeds of Happiness Guy

I found this adorable little smiling face on a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. When I read the accompanying card, I was hooked. They are such a simple thing, but the heart behind the project is amazing. This week we talk to Mark Borella, who is known as “The Seeds of Happiness Guy”. If you haven’t heard of these little Seeds, take the time to look at their website, read all about the company, and see their adorable products. If you watch any of Mark’s Instagram or YouTube videos, you see instantly where the smiles get their origin. His smile, his happiness, his excitement, is infectious. He loves to make people smile. He loves to make people happy. He loves what he does and it shines through.

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 “My artwork is not serious, but I take my art very seriously.” Mark Borella, The Seeds of Happiness Guy

1) For those who have never heard of the Seeds of Happiness, tell us how you got started making them.

My wife and I have been together since we were 15 or 16. I taught her how to drive. We’ve known the lady that put us together since we were kids. That lady’s son was diagnosed with neuro blastoma when he was young. As he was going through treatments, I wanted to make a piece of art to represent him, to do something for the family. But I got blocked. I was so close to the family and the situation. Previously, as I was doing other sculptures and projects, I had the little leftover lumps of clay. So I started making a handful of smiles, and I put them in a bowl in the studio. Our friend’s son went through his treatments, but didn’t do well. I got the call one day that he wasn’t going to last much longer. The family told me that I needed to come and say my goodbyes. As I walked out of the studio, to go to their house, I looked over and saw those smiles laying in the bowl. I grabbed them, blew off the dust, and went to the family’s house. When I got there, I told the mother of the little boy, our friend, “There is nothing I can say or do, but here is a handful of smiles. Maybe you can hold onto them until you get your smile back.” A few months later, she called me. She told me that she had kept a smile in her hand every day since I had given them to her. She said that those smiles in her hand were the only thing that she had to hold onto during that time. She said, “You need to do this for other people not just me”. I continued to keep the leftover clumps in my studio. I made them and gave them out to people when they needed a smile. I would give them to people and say, “Here’s a seed of happiness I hope it grows”. As time went on, I started getting more and more calls from people who were wanting the Seeds. So we put together a little website and started selling them.  

2) What is your hope with the Seeds of Happiness?

What we are selling is the story behind the smiles; not just my story, but everyone’s story. These are making a huge difference in people’s lives. If I hear that someone gave someone a Seed, and I ask where it is now, they always know. If I ask them who gave it to them, they always know. We get stories all the time about how these smiles change people’s lives in all kinds of ways. People who have lost loved ones, people going through cancer treatments, people who are contemplating suicide. Someone gave them a smile and it made all the difference in the world. That one little gesture shows that they are cared for, that they matter. The people giving the smiles away are the heroes of the story; and that’s the way it should be. Someone told me one time that I had reinvented the greeting card.

3) What was your biggest obstacle when starting the business?

The business end of it all. One of things I figured out early on, even as a kid, is, if you’re not arrogant and you don’t think you can do everything, if you find someone who is better than you at something and you acknowledge that then you will go farther. I found someone that doesn’t suck at business. I also found someone who is better at detail painting. Learn to recognize your weaknesses, find someone who is better than you at it, and you’ll go much further. 

4) Did you have people that thought you were crazy when you decided to make this a business? How did you deal with them?

I was already making a living on art in college; selling sculptures. I’ve never worked for anyone. The people that understood what I was doing knew it was a mission and they supported it.  There were those that didn’t of course. That’s one thing about going to art school. You learn to deal with criticism. You learn your basics, how to do the actual art, and you also learn social skills. The biggest thing you learn is that you suck as an artist, someone is always better than you. This is not meant to be discouraging, it just is. No matter how good you are at something, there is always someone better than you at it.

5) I see on your “Meet the Team” page that you include a lot of people that most companies wouldn’t include. (I especially love that Munch, your doggie mascot and model is included) I think it is amazing that you are willing to share the spotlight and recognize everyone’s contribution to your products. Do you think this philosophy and practice has helped to fuel your success?  

This is a team effort. Without the team, it wouldn’t be a success. Each year I give everyone that works for me an original piece of art that I create. One year I gave each person a puzzle piece. I told them to put them all together. Everyone laid their piece down, fit them together, and they made a Seed of Happiness. Next, I told one of them to take a piece away. I said, “Take one piece away and the whole picture is not the same.”

With Canterbury Enterprises, we employ 2-20 people a day. When they come to help us, it gets them out of their house, gives them and their caregivers a break, and gives them a sense of independence.  

6) How important do you think it is for people to find what they love to do?

If what you do is something you have a passion for then you’ll do a better job. Believe in the magic of what you’re doing and you’ll do well.

7) How did you come to work with the teacher that “helped shape your love of sculpting” (a quote from the website)?

Growing up I was the dumb kid. I struggled in school. When I got to high school there was an art teacher, it was his first year teaching. This was before ADD and ADHD and all that was recognized as a thing. He said, “You’re not dumb, they just don’t teach the way your brain works”. He offered to help me with my homework. Later, he was going back to college for his master’s degree. He got my mom’s ok and I went to college with him, took classes with him. Along the way he saw the potential in my art and began entering it into contests. Because of him I was able to go to art school. Over the years, he followed what I was doing in art, he kept in touch. When he retired from teaching, I asked him what he was going to do with his time. He didn’t know so I asked him to come work with me at the studio. He’s been here ever since.

8) Because The Novel Turtle is all about creativity, we ask everyone: What is your definition of creativity?

Having your eyes open to other things, other than what is mainstream or normal, in every situation. Even seeing things like rivers: the way they flow, the color.

9) Each of your smiles is handmade in The Smile Factory, in Kirkwood, MO. Do you do factory tours of any kind?

Our studio is always open to the public, Monday-Friday 9-5. Sometimes people walk in and they are enthralled. Sometimes they walk in and are like, “this is it”. It’s a working art studio. The name, The Smile Factory, pays homage to Andy Warhol’s art factory.  

10) Some interesting facts about the Seeds of Happiness: They go through 3200 pounds of clay each month. One seed takes about 3 weeks to make. They make 40,000ish each month. The card that comes with each seed is part of the art work.

“When people ask me what I do for a living I tell them, I change the world one smile at a time.” Mark Borella

To learn more about The Seeds of Happiness, to see what Mark and the team are up to, and/or to purchase any of their products, go to SeedsofHappiness.com.

Be sure to follow Mark and the Seeds of Happiness on Instagram and YouTube to get your daily dose of smiles.

Thank you Mark for joining us this week, and for what you and your team are doing to make the world a better place each and every day!

The Novel Turtle Presents: Q&A with Haley Hensley

This is Haley and her sweet Great Dane, Emme.

Welcome to our Q&A session! This week our guest is Haley Hensley. Haley is a photographer, animal lover, and all around fun person. Her website is www.haleyhensley.photo.

Q: What made you want to start taking photographs?

I am a shy person, even more so when I was younger. I didn’t really have a place to fit in at school. I didn’t play sports or an instrument. When I heard about yearbook staff in middle school though it really sparked an interest in me. When I was old enough to join yearbook staff, I did. I loved taking photos of the different activities going on at school. In a way, I was fitting in by hiding behind a camera. 

Q: At what age did you do this?

At age 9, my father bought me my first camera. He bid on a box full of items at an auction. A 35mm Minolta XG 1 film camera was in the box. I was fascinated by it. We took it to Ritz Camera to be looked over and repaired. I remember standing outside of the store, pointing the camera at something. A gentleman walked past and asked if I was a photographer. From that moment, I may not have been a photographer but I knew that I wanted to be one in the future. So, I started photographing everything: family, pets, nature. 

Q: What are some of your favorite things to photograph?

I’ve always loved photographing nature, from mountains to beaches. I love capturing the beautiful areas that surround me. I also love photographing dogs. Dogs are one of my biggest passions, along with photography. So being able to connect with them through my camera is one of the most rewarding experiences. I am currently trying to learn more about photographing couples and newborns!

Q: Where is the craziest place you’ve ever stood to take a photo?

This one is easy for me. Although I will do just about anything to capture a shot that I have a vision for, this one experience always comes to mind. It was November on the Nolichucky River. The Noli is already extremely cold, but in November it is REALLY cold. I had a 4×5 film project I was working on for school, and I saw the perfect shot about knee high out a little ways in the river. I was thinking, “I have on rain boots, I’ll be fine!” The rain boots didn’t help, I was not fine, and it was COLD. I remember my legs going numb in a matter of seconds! I got the shot, found my way out and called it a day! 

Q: Do you have a favorite photo, or collection of photos?

A project that was one of the most challenging and most rewarding is my Virginia Intermont College series. I photographed my school several times, between a few weeks up to a year after its closing. Those are some of my favorite images and always will be because of the personal connection I have with them, and the challenge it posed for me as a person and photographer. 

Q: You have a book about Virginia Intermont, tell us about that. What gave you the idea to do it? How did you choose the areas that you photographed? 

We were told 2 weeks before school ended for summer break that we would not be able to come back. We had already registered for classes and had out next year planned out. In a matter of seconds that was taken away. I was desperate to hang on to anything I could from Virginia Intermont. I knew that I would never see it again. So, I told myself, I have to photograph everything. I walked in every room of every building. Even places that had been closed off to students previously, areas I didn’t even know existed. I photographed places that I connected with or felt emotional about. 

Q: What did you learn in school that you were surprised to learn about photography?

That even though you have a beautiful, creative idea it needs to be technically correct to actually be a good photograph. I had been photographing for years! When I started college I was amazed by just how much I didn’t know technically. Learning how to shoot a camera in manual so that you can control every aspect to achieve your vision is one of the most important things. If your photograph is overexposed then it’s ruined! You can edit a digital image and correct any mistakes but printing a film negative is a bit more challenging if it is not technically correct. 

Q: What are a few tips, that you could give those of us who are amateurs that love to take photos, to help us?

Learn. Learn. And keep learning. In today’s world with YouTube, Facebook Groups and other endless internet resources it provides a whole learning field for anything and everything. Learn about your camera, composition and ways to manipulate your image and be creative. Watch videos, ask other photographers. You can always study others’ work, but always give credit and be respectful! 

Q: Are there other types of creative projects that you do?

I have to be creative! If I am not creative, I am not happy! Outside of photography, I am also a woodworker. I work for a small business (extremely successful, but family owned) that builds furniture! I also love to make greeting cards. I have been making cards since I was a little girl. I love the personal touch it adds. 

Q: Because this website is all about expanding our ideas of what creativity is, I’m always interested to ask this question: How do you define creativity?

Expressing the ideas that are in your mind, or how you’re feeling, through activities that you love to do and that make you happy. 


Haley, thanks so much for joining us this week!!! It has been a lot of fun getting to know more about you and your business.

If you would like to see more of Haley’s work, purchase her book with the Virginia Intermont collection, or get in touch with her:

Website: www.haleyhensley.photo

Email: info@haleyhensley.photo

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/haleyhensleyphotography/

Instagram: www.instagram.com/haleyhensleyphotography