The first Saturday of July is International Free Hugs Day.
Maybe you’ve seen someone in your town centre holding up a hand-made sign that says “Free Hugs” – and delivering on that promise by hugging anyone that approaches them. Quite possibly you’ve already seen themusic video below, that shows the advent of this Free Hugs movement. If not, go ahead and take a few minutes right now.

The story behind these folks with the signs and the open arms begins in Sydney, Australia. A guy who use the name Juan Mann arrived back there after having spent some time living away in London. He didn’t actually have any family in Sydney any more, there was nobody to meet him.

“Standing there in the arrivals terminal, watching other passengers meeting their waiting friends and family, with open arms and smiling faces, hugging and laughing together, I wanted someone out there to be waiting for me. To be happy to see me. To smile at me. To hug me.”

So, presumably guided by the principle of giving what you want to receive, he made himself a cardboard sign with the words “Free Hugs” written on both sides, stood in the middle of the busiest place he could find and held the sign above his head.

“And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.”

Most of us feel that a hug at the right time makes the world of difference – helps us to feel less alone and more valued. But if you’re feeling inspired to start your own hug campaign, please do bear in mind that not everybody wants to be hugged, especially by a stranger and especially if they’re not expecting it.

“Huggers, please consider this the next time somebody kindly declines a hug. You never know what kind of sensory processing disorder they may have, or what kind of trauma they may be recovering from, or even just a simple preference to maintain some physical distance. You don’t need to know why they are declining your physical gesture; all you need to know is that they don’t want a hug.” – Jennifer Cacchio

Some simple guidelines for safe hugging:
1. Don’t take people by surprise – so, don’t come up from behind them and don’t rush at them.
2. If they seem uncomfortable with the hug, or they don’t know how to respond, then back off, give them some space.
3. The borderline between “hugging” and “groping” will be different for different people. Sometimes an arm round the shoulder is enough.
4. You don’t need to use your full strength for every hug. It’s tempting (especially for men hugging each other) to go for the full bear hug squeeze. Some people love it, others feel like it’s a bit of an attack.
5. If you’re not sure if a hug is wanted, then ask.