Hugging Japan

In 2001 I flew to Japan for a 3 day orientation program for about 150 teenagers aged 16 to 18, who were about to study for a high school year abroad in either Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada or the UK. My role was to help prepare them for differences and especially the initial culture shock of arriving in a foreign land away from their family, friends and familiar life for a whole year. During this orientation, the Japanese program director described what to expect on arrival at the airport. She explained that the students should collect their luggage and walk through the gates, and then they would probably see a family or group of people holding a sign with their name on it.

“Then they will do something that maybe no one has ever done before” she smiled. “They will hold out their arms like this. And they will come towards you”. The students all giggled, embarrassed, and looked around at their friends. Yuko continued by coming towards me with her arms outstretched, as she explained that what she was doing was a common way to welcome someone in these cultures and it is called a hug. Yuko and I had a big hug and then turned to the students.

She asked the students to ‘practice’ and hug the person next to them, and I quickly jumped up on a chair to take this photo. To this day it is one of my favourite photos ever – to see the sheer delight on the faces of these students is magical. Afterwards Yuko asked if anyone had any questions and one girl put up her hand and said “Can I please hug someone who knows how to hug?” I agreed instantly and she came running up towards me and I swung her around in a big bear hug to the sound of a room full of cheers and laughter.

Hugging is brilliant. Well done Guerrilla Hugs for bringing a nice big warm friendly bit of human touch into our lives!


Camden Free Hugs 9th August 2011

Follow us on Twitter @guerrillahugs

The last few days in London have been scary, the constant sound of sirens, the tension building as the day draws to a close, the daylight looting, the fires, lost homes, livelihoods and businesses. I have been glued to twitter, the news, the radio and the location of my son! After a pretty sleepless night I was determined to do something, help with the clean up, try to make a difference. I contacted the hugging team, many of who work in the public sector in the boroughs that have been affected by the looting and violence to see if we could go and hug, make connection, bring some sense of caring to the community in London. No joy – everyone has to work or live in different parts of town that have become slightly cut off. I couldn’t just sit at home, write up my research proposal and feel ok with that… so I grabbed the Guerrilla Hugs ‘Free Hugs’ boards and drove to Camden.

Free Hugs in Camden

Just outside the Sainsburys and Evans Cycles there were people wanting to help with the clean up but unable to due to the crime scene investigations. I approached some of the people and asked would come and offer free hugs to make people feel better – that was it – new Guerrilla Huggers were recruited and after hugging the police officer posted outside Sainsburys we headed off to the junction of the Stables and Chalk Farm Road.

Immediately people came for a hug, smiled, thanked us and made unanimous the view that we all need a hug today.

Watching the YouTube video of the injured boy being robbed had me in floods of tears this morning, how can anyone be so uncaring, opportunistic and callous? That is someone’s son, brother, cousin, grandson, friend, it could have been you! We all need to see that everyone is human, stop dehumanising by distancing your behaviour from the impact on everyone. Think this could be your family, you, would you want it to happen to you?

We want to make the world a better place!


Then there are the people who are out there trying to protect communities, helping to clean up the mess, to speak and connect with others at this time, the woman who kindly gave all the huggers a home made cupcake – THANK YOU!

NW1 Free Hugs






There are more good youth out, look out for each other, protect the people you live next door to, check on those who live a lone, who need to feel like there is someone to call upon. Lets strive for PEACE!

And lets us not forget the brooms! PEACE!

Feel the LOVE Clean Up!

London Bridge

Free Hugs Friday a First at London BridgeA warm early evening in London, what better way to spend it then to offer free hugs to everyone on and around London Bridge? The guerrilla team settled them selves at the corner of Duke Hill Street and London Bridge and awaited the approach of people wanting hugs. A good point was raised by someone on Twitter who was watching us:

“I’m watching you at London Bridge. I see no gorillas, and you’re not forcing hugs on people – your name is terrible! ;)”


I replied:

The Big Squeeze“Why thank you! Come & have a hug!”


“I’m enjoying watching the terrified/confused looks on most peoples faces WAY more!”

He was right lots of people look worried, curious, suspicious as they pass us by, is this because we have created a culture of fear? Considering how important touch is and how difficult for some people to give or receive touch is, we are mindful in how we approach ‘free hugs’, I suppose the bigger concern is that touch or comforting children at school is off limits, is this a form of neglect? I would argue that the children, older people, those in care of any sort need touch from people other than medical interventions. Instinctively comforting another human being is an important part of building communities, generating loyalty and bonding behaviours, reducing aggression and increasing human thriving.

We can all make a difference by reaching out to others, being open to connection and by challenging inhuman policies.

Although lots of people didn’t stop for a hug on Friday, rushing for the train etc the one thing that we always notice is that people smile, laugh and something shifts. We don’t need to jump on people, dress as gorillas or even get one hug when we do guerrilla hugs if we have a positive effect on one person’s day then that’s good enough. Although in fairness I love the idea of dressing as a gorilla and hugging people – if you know anyone who has a beautiful gorilla suit – not those nasty plastic smelly ones – please let me know!

RSA Events – Flourish

Martin Seligman the author of Flourish and one of the people who coined the term Positive Psychology gave a talk on the aspects of his book on the 6th July 2011 at the RSA. The room was packed and the event was podcast live. The RSA always put on great events, this one is close to my heart. I am familiar with Seligman’s work, his early research into learned helplessness led him to developing learned optimism, and evolving more of a balance within the psychology field more emphasis on flourishing rather than repairing or fixing problems.

Flourish – Can you flourish without touch?

Seligman manages to explore human flourishing without actually exploring human touch, this I find disappointing, how can people thrive or flourish without physical contact?

Martin Seligman gets a Hug at the RSA On the 2nd July in Newcastle Under Lyme some first time huggers got busy offering free hugs in the town centre. A new outpost of Guerrilla Huggers has now been formed. I travelled with a friend who has been an observer of our hugs before but had never offered free hugs. She was still unsure as to whether she would hug or not. When we arrived she decided to go for it, what happened had a significant impact on her mood and shifted her well being up a few notches.

Newcastle Under Lyme Hugs

As she was offering hugs her confidence grew, she smiled more, her stature was different and everything seemed to flow. Then an older man stopped for a hug, she duly hugged him, he said “I so miss being held, I haven’t had a hug since my wife died”. They stood chatting about the importance of touch and how to find ways of getting more platonic touch in life, it’s the one thing that everyone steers clear of and yet everyone needs touch in their life to thrive. I am writing this here to illustrate the need for positive psychology, policy makers and people in general to start recognising the obvious need to create safe touch in everyday life for people who live alone of any age, for people in care homes and hospitals to receive touch other than medical interventions. Since my friend came hugging she reports a significant shift in her own well being, she feels happier and life feels better for her, could it be that by giving hugs you increase your own well being by intention?

Man Hugs

I asked Seligman about the exclusion of touch from the notion of human flourishing, he agreed there is a need for more research into touch – you can listen here I ask it right at the end. Where does touch sit in the notion of human rights? The right to have connections with meaning and purpose not based on fear?


South Bank Hugs!

Hugs for Free!

A serendipitous meeting at Brick lane with the film’s director, maker and driving force Menelik Shabazz resulted in a dream come true for me, I was to be in the same room as Janet Kay the singer of, yes, my all time top favourite tune Silly Games! Not only that but to have some intelligent conversation with Menelik about the importance of touch and hugs in relation to a whole music genre that I personally love and recognise to be at the forefront of breaking down racial barriers. Wow is really an understatement!

I’m not hugging – I’ll jut take photos! Yeah – right Phil!

Saturday 9th April a gloriously sunny day, Guerrilla Huggers met at the riverside bar to discuss our hugging in support of Lovers Rock The Film. So there we are discussing the rules, boundaries and expectations of free hugs, excited and thrilled to be able to endorse an inspirational documentary, that may reignite the whole Lovers Rock scene.


Sunshine Hugs!

Our team Levi, Jazzy, Paula, Paula (yes that’s two Paula’s), Phil, Maren, Maymay, Livia, Kris, Phil, Kym, Imelda, Lynsey and photographer Clara Copley! All at ready!


People watched, hovered round the edges, smiled politely and some even came in for a hug! Young men on their bikes doing tricks came in for hugs, small children got stickers and hugs,

Pretty in Pink!

people chatted as they looked on and some of our huggers even had queues forming, young women, older women and others made a b-line for Kris! Phil “I’m not hugging” grabbed a free hugs board and started hugging, converted he has vowed to come along and do more free hugs. As I looked up I was amazed at how many people were watching, taking photos and video clips and smiling, even without being hugged they were able to get some joy from the free hugs.


Group Hugs!

Many photos were taken by my trusty camera, alas iPhoto crashed and I lost them, if anyone knows how to find my lost images please get in touch! Images taken on the day by Clara Copley are great and we really appreciate her support!


Next hugs at the Action for Happiness launch event!

You get what you focus on …

You may have seen the books which implore you to think yourself rich, or thinner … and you may have thought “rubbish”, or words to that effect. So first of all I really encourage you to take the following short test (Chabris & Simons) to see how good your focus (attention) is … it’s quick (less than 2 mins) simple and confidential, and will give you a good starting point.

Selective Attention Test

For some, the results may have been surprising.  Having focused attention means that we can miss what we’re not paying attention to.  Many of us have busy lives, and whilst we’re busy focusing on “the next thing” whether it’s meeting that looming project deadline, picking the kids up from school or even what to pick up for dinner from the supermarket … we can miss “things” which could translate into missing opportunities.

Professor Wiseman (2003) demonstrated that people make their own luck.  He designed an experiment which asked participants to count the number of photos in a newspaper, and the response would be timed.  In the newspaper – which he’d created he had also put in letters “2 inches high” the words “stop counting – there are 43 photographs” … some people – those that described themselves as unlucky, missed those words as they were too busy focusing on the original task of counting the photographs.

I think the adage “you get what you focus on” is very powerful, and you may want to ensure that you incorporate aspects of your whole life so that you don’t end up like King Midas.  You may want to take a moment to think about what you’re focused on (head down battling to work, or strolling along with time to smell the spring blossom)… do you have enough joy, happiness, hugs in your life?

If you’re already a hugger – we’d welcome you to join us and be a part of a hugging collective bringing joy and fun into people’s lives!

You get what you focus on …so focus on having a fun, smiling at people, expecting good things to happen and look around you see if there might be a Guerrilla Free Hugger near you soon!


Chabris, C. F., & Simons, D. J. (2010). The invisible gorilla : and other ways our intuitions deceive us (1st ed. ed.). New York: Crown.

Wiseman, R. (2003). The Luck Factor. Skeptical Inquirer.

© Guerrilla Hugs 2011

Can I give you a hug?

by Suzanne

We perform physical activity to keep our lungs active and our heart strong.  We’re encouraged to eat more fruit and fibre, and a low cholesterol diet for heart and colon health.  And for the largest organ in our body … our skin …. Er?  In some cultures (e.g. Thailand), it’s “normal” to have a weekly massage … in the UK … not so mainstream.  So, what’s important about touch?

Over eighty years ago it was found that infants died if they were deprived of touch.  Back in the 1930’s there was a condition known as hospitalism, where children who stayed long term in hospital died through lack of social contact.  Fortunately this term has been lost from our vocabulary, as the causes for these deaths were found and eradicated.  Spitz (1946) noted:

At the beginning of our century one of the great foundling homes in Germany had a mortality rate of 71.5% in infants in the first year of life”

Stewart & Joines (1987), in TA Today summarise:

“They [the infants], were fed well, kept clean and warm.  Yet they were more likely to experience physical and emotional difficulties than were children brought up by their mothers or other direct caretakers.  …. They had little physical contact with those who looked after them.  They lacked the touching, cuddling and stroking which babies would normally get from their caretakers”.

Psychologist Harry Harlow demonstrated the need for touch with chimps, whereby baby chimps were offered a choice of two surrogate mothers, one made of a wire frame, and food, and the other, no food, but where the frame was covered in soft material.  The thinking at the time was babies “just” needed food.  He demonstrated that whilst the chimps would feed from the wire frame surrogate, they dashed back to the cloth covered surrogate, through choice and even when fearful, demonstrating that touch to be more important than food?

So, if lack of physical contact in infants caused death, what about this deprivation in adults?  Eric Berne (in Stewart & Joines) suggested that “as adults we still crave physical contact.  But we also learn to substitute other forms of recognition in place of physical touching.  A smile, a compliment, or for that matter a frown or an insult – all show us that our existence has been recognised.”

Substitute?  I wonder if there’s a case for having both?

I’m talking about touch that’s a mutually pleasant and beneficial experience.  What’s considered pleasant will be different for different people, with different people, and in different environments, and I think it important to also emphasise that both parties have to be in agreement.  Touch can and does incorporate many different areas, including massage and reflexology.  So let me narrow from general mutually beneficial touch, to the specifics of hugging.

I think it’s fair to say there are cultural norms, social norms, and appropriate codes of conduct in different environments.  Most of us would not want to be accosted and randomly hugged by a stranger, however well meaning.  I remember an evening out with work colleagues, where a chap I had occasionally worked with, came up to me and gave me a big public hug.  I remember being quite upset, as a woman in a male dominated industry I was concerned that this would give out inappropriate and inaccurate signals about our relationship.  The mutuality was missing.

Subsequently I changed to a job in training where colleagues may not see each other for weeks on end, and many of us hug on “first meeting”.  More recently, in a new job, I find myself moving towards giving a colleagues a hug on “first meeting”, and realise it’s inappropriate for the context.  Given that it has the potential to be a bit of a social minefield out there, about what’s appropriate, with whom and when … and whilst I’m all for the spontaneous hug, there can be no harm in asking “can I give you a hug?”  Any slight potential embarrassment as you raise your arms to hug, as the other person declines, has to be better than the awkward embrace.  Some people don’t want physical contact – and that’s fine too.  And of course many people will accept your offer.

Can I give you a hug?  Look out for Guerrilla Free Hugs near you!


Berne, E. (1975). What do you say after you say hello? : London: Corgi.

Spitz, R. A., & Wolf, K. M. (1946). Anaclitic depression; an inquiry into the genesis of psychiatric conditions in early childhood, II. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, 313-342.

Stewart, I., & Joines, V. (1987). TA today : a new introduction to transactional analysis. Nottingham: Lifespace.

© guerrilla hugs 2011

The importance of touch for young people

Laughter, stress, guilt, fear, etc. are all emotions that produce chemical reactions in the body. The loving touch of a mother/guardian can produce comfort and joy. I am filled with concern when I think of the young people of today; some may never receive touch in the way I did when I was growing up. Some may only only experience the touch of an abuser, which will produce feelings of fear and anxiety. The touch of parents and their children are key to the nurturing and development of the child. A child comes into the world not being able to do anything for themselves and needs the security of a parent.

In today’s fearful society the importance of touch seems to have been lost. Teachers can no longer give a pupil a hug if they fall over in the playground. Professionals working in young people’s care home can no longer hug the children there who very often only need a cuddle to lift them up and make them feel supported.

So what will happen to these young people? I’m not sure that they will understand the benefits of platonic touch, the reassurance of someone showing they care. Statistics show that 1 in 3 girls will get pregnant within their first year of leaving care. For me its seems like this may have a lot to do with a lack of touch, and a misguided truth around physical affection.

Early research from Maslow’s hierarchy shows the importance of security in the well being and development of humans. It can also be see from the instances of neglected children, the terrible affects of not being touched and nurtured as a youngster. The same is also shown with doctor and patient; During sickness or illness, the doctor is like a surrogate parent. The belief and trust we have in the doctor is transmitted and received by touch. One knows this from the sugar pill and medicine experiments. Some people are healed by the sugar pill just like the medicine. It was the belief in the power of the pill that actually healed. Just by the doctor touching us and telling us we will be fine goes a long way in the healing process.

So before we are all lost in the land of no contact and the madness, as common sense slips out the door … give someone a hug today!


© guerrilla hugs 2011