Power of the hug

We’ve all been in a position when we simply needed a hug. From a friend or family member, or heck, sometimes even just a random stranger.

As humans, we know the power of the hug.

It relaxes, releases hormones, relieves tensions and stress. Even just a single hug does.

So now think about getting dozens of them.

Which is what I did on 1 Januar 2016, hugging myself into the new year!

And this is how this happened:

HugTrainI had met Arié during my trip around the world in 2014, when I stayed a month in Montréal. Arié and I met online sthrough Scruff, a gay app, and we went for a coffee. I was intrigued by his HugTrain Project.

Changing the world one hug at a time, Arié has been on the road every holiday season since 2009.

He travels by train through Canada and the United States, and gives out free hugs in various places. Squares, bridges, fairs, train stations….

His mission is to offer a different perspective on the world and reduce social isolation by distributing and facilitating the exchange of hugs, and raising awareness for mental health issues.

This New Year’s eve, he stood on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, hugging people.

He choses the cold holiday season for his trip, because especially during the festive holidays, a lot of people feel lonesome or depressed.

I had stayed in touch with him over the years, and when I realized he would pass through an Francisco during my stay, I just had to meet him again.

I found him on a bright sunny Northern California winter day at Fishermen’s wharf in San Francisco, one of the busiest places, holding up his bright pink sign, and giving out hugs.

I offered to hold it for him so he could hug people easier… not thinking that then, I would get the hugs.

And indeed I did. Dozens.

It was a fascinating experience. First of all, to see who would come and get the hug, or pass by… It seems it was more women than men, more younger people, then older ones.

The hugs were all different, too. In my maybe less than subtle German ways I gave full-on hugs – Squeeze! Body contact!

Then I thought maybe that’s not totally appropriate to Americans who have a somewhat different attitude to bodies, naked or clothed, and closeness.

So Arié explained to me that he let people do the hugging, and he responded in kind. A shy, more distant hug was reciprocated, just as was a hefty, full-on hug.

We stood there for maybe 20 to 30 minutes. I must have given some 40-50 hugs, I guess. I lost track.

When we were walking on to get some food in a restaurant, I was floating.

One hug already makes you feel different. Dozens release some endorphins that wash through your body, and you are just somewhat lighter, sunnier, more open.

What better way than to start 2016 with this feeling?