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