Two years ago, Hayes's father passed away. Then two weeks ago, his mother died unexpectedly.
He's likely experienced much more loss than the typical first grader. However, Hayes is determined not to be known for his hardships, but instead for his smile.
After attending his mother's funeral, full of adults of course sporting frowns, Hayes just wanted to be happy.
"He really wanted to make people smile," his mother's sister, Barbara DiCola, told Today.
He asked his aunt for tips on making people smile, and she told him the simplest way was to just smile right at them. But Hayes didn't want to take the chance that this method wouldn't work, so he armed himself with a collection of small toys to give out in hopes of really prompting smiles.
Accompanied by his aunt, Hayes took to the streets of downtown Savannah, Georgia, seeking some friendly faces. During two outings in the last week, he's approached 275 people – at least. Most smile when they hear about his project, which they've dubbed #TheSmileExperiment, and more cave once they receive a small present from him.
Hayes has gotten much more than just smiles for his efforts, too: He's received plenty of hugs, sympathetic tears after the telling of his story and even offers for financial donations (all of which have been declined, DiCola says).
DiCola's daughter, Tasha Compton, captured her cousin's search for smiles on her Instagram account – and it's clear he's had plenty of success:
DiCola said that she think Hayes's project will go a long way in helping him to heal.
"I don't know how his little brain is processing it, but I think this all is helping in his healing process," she said.
And really, Hayes's commitment to inspiring happiness in others is quite a reason to smile, too.