7 Reasons Why You Should Hug a Stranger

Slow emphasises connection between people. This can be pretty straight-forward and obvious in the context of verbal exchanges; for example being quiet long enough to hear what someone else has to say and really listen. But human beings establish connection with each other primarily non-verbally.

‘Free Hugs’, a social play activity where you offer hugs to strangers in the street is not only fun, but also amazingly instructive in how we connect with others. Not only that, hugging and laughter are wonderful tools for healing and overcoming loneliness, depression and stress. Our fast-paced modern life threatens such practices by encouraging disconnection. Slow seeks to address this.

Here are 7 reasons why you should take part in Free Hugs:

1. Oxytocin

Hugs 20 seconds or more spark release of the hormone oxytocin. Dubbed ‘the bonding hormone,’ oxytocin also lowers blood pressure, reduces inflammation and protects the heart.

2. Practice skills in non-verbal communication and forming connection

It doesn’t take long participating in free hugs before you learn that even though the sign says ‘free hugs’, the invitation to join in a hug is largely non-verbal. It becomes a game seeing how to entice people into a hug just using your facial and body expressions. Psychologist and best-selling author of Love 2.0, Barbara Fredrikson, says that there are two preconditions to such micro-moments of connection: that people feel safe and that there is a real-time sensory connection.

3. Get used to discomfort

One of the most valuable things you can do for yourself to help you embrace your dreams and lead a fuller life is to get used to doing things that initially make you feel discomfort. Hugging a stranger may not come naturally (it didn’t for me) but discomfort is a sign of potential to change. Embrace it (literally in this case).

4. Realise what a difference you make to others just by shifting your intention 

Positive emotion is more contagious than negative emotions. Giving free hugs you really see how easy it is to change someone’s day, even if they take a bit of encouragement to get over an initial negative reaction to your invitation. Take this as a lesson for how to improve relationships at home and work; even when you are finding someone’s behaviour challenging, focussing on increasing positive emotion between you provides practical payoff in the form of less hassle, more allies and more job satisfaction.

5. Play

Our ability to learn is enhanced when we are in play. Plus it’s fun, you get an endorphin rush and stress levels are lowered (your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged).

6. Empathy and understanding

Empathy is ridiculously important to our personal relationships but also to the functioning of global society! Practice it and you will soon find yourself in amazement at how much more you see in people. In the brief exchanges you have with people during free hugs, stereotypes and pre-conceived ideas are swept away as you realise that there is more to everyone than meets the eye. Even those who turn down your hugs leave you feeling compassion for them because you know they are the ones who would benefit the most and you start to see them as a more whole human being. Hugging also builds trust, a sense of safety and open and honest communication – see how well hugging creates a healthy society?

7. Make someone else happy

And you become happier too. Hugging raises serotonin levels.

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