How many people have you hugged today? Research shows that receiving eight hugs a day can have important benefits for both our mental and physical wellbeing. Sadly, there are many people who do not get even one daily hug, let alone eight or more. Think back over the past week and try to remember a day when you had that many long, meaningful hugs – if you even had one day that met those requirements, you are one of the rare few!
As children, it is natural for us to touch one another, to embrace our friends, hold hands, to play and to cuddle. But as we grow up, we learn to reign in our affection, to save it only for those close to us, to be afraid of strangers and to avoid even sitting next to another person on the train.
As adults, we don’t stop needing physical touch, but we become conditioned to think that physical affection can “send the wrong message” and should be reserved only for a special few. Cuddling becomes something that only lovers are supposed to do and teachers in schools aren’t even allowed to hug their students for fear of it seeming inappropriate. The sad truth is that many of us are not receiving enough physical affection every day, which can have serious negative impacts on our health; affection is just as essential to our wellbeing as food, water, and shelter.
This is why one of my favorite random acts of kindness is standing on the corner with a sign that says “Free Hugs” and giving as many hugs as I can to complete strangers (with their consent, of course). Juan Mann started this “Free Hugs” movement at a time in his life when he was feeling sad and lonely and just needed some more love and physical affection in his life. It has since become a global campaign and people all around the world brighten their own lives and the lives of many others through the simple action of giving out hugs.
While hugging random people on the street may not change the world overnight, I have seen firsthand the positive impact it can have on a person’s day. The story that stands out the most to me happened when a few friends and I were giving out hugs at Pioneer Courthouse Square in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. After giving each of us a hug, a woman in her mid-forties told us that this was the first time she had hugged anyone since her son had died the month before. She nearly cried as she was telling us, and I did too. She thanked us for being there and walked away, leaving us all completely speechless.
It is moments like these that remind me how important small, daily random acts of kindness are for the world. While most of our interactions may simply be a small bright spot in someone’s day, every now and then we have the opportunity to have a profound positive impact. If each of us could affect one person every day in this way, imagine how much love and beauty we would be sending out into the world, how much more joy there would be. Sometimes, a person just needs to know that there is one other human being out there on the planet who cares about them, who wants them to be happy, who loves them even if they are a complete stranger.
Not to mention, when you spend a couple of hours giving out hugs, you personally receive a huge benefit as well! Each person you hug gets one more hug that day, but you can rack up hundreds of hugs in just one afternoon, greatly exceeding your daily and probably even weekly requirement!
When I feel overwhelmed by the amount of fear, hatred, and sadness in the world, performing random acts of kindness gives me a sense of meaning and purpose and reminds me that there is something that I personally can do to make the world a better place, even if it is very small. Each of us has something we can do to brighten another person’s day. If giving out free hugs isn’t your thing, try writing a nice note for your mail person, leaving flowers on your neighbor’s doorstep, or volunteering for an animal shelter. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or cost a lot of money to make a difference in someone else’s life. And you might just find that it makes your life better in the process.
Olive Ryan is a traveler, educator, blogger, photographer, lover of glitter and acro yoga enthusiast! Although her hometown is Portland, Oregon, she has lived in and explored many corners of the world and looks forward to spending the rest of her life doing so. Find more of her writing, music, and photography on her travel and wellness blog, oliveabroad.com.