This European City Tried To Stop Suicides After World War I By Waging A Smile War
World War I was the first “modern” war in the world. It was also the most destructive war in history at the time. For survivors of the war, many struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
For the Hungarian city of Budapest, the problem wasn’t just among soldiers returning home; the entire city dealt with depression. According to newspaper reports, 1930s Budapest suffered from an epidemic of suicides. It was so bad that residents started calling their city “The City Of Suicides.”
Drowning was the preferred method of suicide at the time. Patrol boats were stationed near the city’s bridges to try and save as many people as they could. Some believed that the wave of suicides was caused by a popular Hungarian song from 1933, “Gloomy Sunday.”
While this fact is tragic, the city government’s response to the crisis is just bizarre. They created a “Smile Club.”
The idea behind the “Smile Club” was to improve the atmosphere of the city by teaching people to smile more. Their self-stated goal was to turn Budapest from “The City Of Suicide” into “The City Of Smiles.”
The Smile Club even opened a school where citizens were taught how to smile.
The school taught the Roosevelt smile, the Mona Lisa smile, the Clark Gable smile, the Dick Powell smile, and the Loretta Young smile, all with guaranteed results. Rates were based on how long it took someone to learn their preferred smile.
They even used a special kind of face tape to teach people the “proper smiling techniques.”
This looks like a scene from an episode of The Twilight Zone.
While this idea does seem bizarre (and it is), the city claimed some success from their Smile Club. They stated that the smiles, along with a better business climate in the city, eventually reduced the number of suicides. Still, I don’t think walking down the street and seeing people with their faces taped into smiles would make me less depressed.