Free Hugs

GOALS

  • Reduce the distance between strangers in the city
  • Promote healthy living and interactions

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A hug is such a fantastically direct way to build connection and trust between people who haven’t met before!

Focallocal has been running Free Hugs at Trafalgar Square in the rain, snow, and sun, every single month for over 2 years now, together with hundreds of this same activity that our community has organized all over the world. Basically, we love hugs!

With each hug, we bring society a little closer together, reminding people that there are lots of friendly people in this world who are willing to give their time and energy just to make others smile. And with the media always focusing on the negative things people do, this activity can be a much needed reminder that there are far more friendly humans in this world and that there is no need to be afraid of people they haven’t met yet!

Please remember that it’s not a competition to collect the most hugs, and if you chase people around the streets for a hug it makes many people feel like they just have been sold a hug by a hug salesman, and it makes some passers-by uncomfortable – which is the absolute opposite of our mission. A hug means much more to someone if it was their choice to take it, by all means offer hugs to others, just please don’t be pushy. The project is about giving out hugs, not collecting ALL THE HUGS for yourself! 😉

PRO-TIPS:

  • I tend to offer a hug to people who smile when they see what I’m doing, as that’s a pretty good indicator that they like the Free Hug idea 😉
  • If you want to promote the activity and invite more people, choose a specific meeting point that will be easy for attendees to find you, and carry your sign so they can easily see you.
  • Ask all attendees to bring their own signs. Some won’t, but those that do often bring really artistic signs they’ve spent ages on.
  • Bring pens, paper, and a ‘Join Us’ sign so people you meet can join in and share the happiness too.
  • Please write an article about your experiences and post lots of photos in our albums to share your experience with our community and inspire more people to go out, give and receive hugs!
  • Lots of passers-by ask why we give hugs. I tell them we are trying to bring people closer together, spread happiness, and remind them that they are surrounded by positive and friendly people.
  • Please tell people about Focallocal, and invite them to join us at focallocal.org so we can change the world together!
  • Hug!

Background

This idea was originally started by Juan Mann, an Australian guy, on December 1 2004, when he was feeling lonely and was inspired by a hug from a random stranger. The act of  Hugging has been studied by the scientific community in depth and the general consensus among these studies is that hugging more often WILL improve your life quality. Hugging benefits your health, happiness, and builds a stronger connection to your friends and family. Hugs can:

  1. Lower blood pressure. a decent length hug (6-12 secs) releases Oxytocin and as our levels rise, they interact with the hormones in our bodies which keep us alert for danger, allow our blood pressure to drop and helping us to relax and feel safe. Oxytocin also acts as a natural pain reliever so a hug really does scientifically make you feel better when you’re hurting.
  2. Reduce social anxiety. Oxytocin has been proven to makes people feel more optimistic, confident, trusting and relaxed. these are all good things so give the nearest person a good long hug right now!
  3. Help you loose weight and keep your heart healthy! a good hug (with feeling) reduces cortisol levels (our stress hormone). Too much Cortisol can lead to weight management issues and stress on your heart muscles.
  4. Stop you from getting sick by releasing more white blood cells which strengthens your immune systems.
  5. Help us to feel more connected to the people around us and acts like exercise for our empathy and caring for others.

That’s just five of the many scientifically proven reasons why hugging more will improve your daily life, and speaking from my personal experience, a full day of huggin leaves me feeling very high on life and light headed in a really lovely way.

Also, please come even if it makes you nervous. In fact, come especially if it makes you nervous! I grew up in a non-hugging culture and I used to feel nervous about looking and feeling silly before running Free Hugs, but I turned up with my sign anyway and reminded myself that I am here to give hugs to others who may need a little lift and friendly human interaction in their day. It may feel awkward at first, but once you’ve got your first hug from a passer-by it’s just easy and fun – and now I am very much a hugging person, and am happier and closer to my loved ones because of it.

There’s no need to stress about numbers. I often begin the event alone or with just one or two people, and have found that you get far more hugs with a smaller number of people…maybe because people respect your bravery for getting up and offering something so lovely.

Legal Stuff (how it worked out for us)

This event is pretty hassle-free in most places. There were 2 friends in Saudi Arabia who were arrested for such an “un-Islamic behavior”, but they both courageously said they will risk the consequences and do it again anyway! I greatly respect their courage, to do something so simple because they believe in its purpose, and it is amazing to realize that something we see as harmless fun is a freedom of expression others have to fight for.

More on the scientific benefits of hugging:

  • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329447296_The_Effectiveness_of_Hugging_in_Reducing_Depression_and_the_Feeling_of_Powerlessness_in_the_Affected_Adolescents
  • https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/psychology/stress-immunity-disease-lab/publications/stresssocial/pdfs/does-hugging.pdf
  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/In_brief_Hugs_heartfelt_in_more_ways_than_one
  • https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research