free hugs

“You give power to things you’re afraid of.” – Robin Sharma



Last year, before I turned 30, I did a 30 Day challenge of to cross of things on my bucket list.  One of the items was to give out free hugs in public.

So off we went, my best friend, and another good friend and her daughter, to Eaton Centre (the biggest mall in downtown Toronto).  It was early December, so we situated ourselves right at the main entrance to the mall.

However, for the first 15 minutes or so, we didn’t get any hugs.  We jingled our jingle, welcomed people to the mall, and shared our smiles. We made lots of noise, and kept saying “Free Hugs”.


But we still didn’t get any hugs.    


I began to feel self-conscious for standing there and being ignored, second guessed my reasons for wanting to give out free hugs, and wondered whether there was something we weren’t doing right.  I looked at my friends, and could sense that they were also feeling anxious.  After all, we were taking a risk to put ourselves out there.

At that moment, my friends and I huddled together and reminded each other why we were there, not to have any expectations, not to judge people who didn’t want to hug us, and to trust the process.


Why we were there

We were there because we wanted to be.  We liked giving out hugs, wanted to connect with others, and wanted to foster a sense of community.  Plus, I have been known to be a side-hugger, and desperately needed to improve my hugging skills.


No expectations

We spoke about how all we can do is stay true to our intentions of why we were there, hold up the “Free Hugs” signs, and have fun.

We could have easily fallen into the trap of thinking that if someone didn’t choose to come to us for a hug, that it was because we weren’t good enough.  We each realized that we have to give ourselves validation for taking the risk of being there, irrespective of whether or not people came to us for a hug.


No judgments of others

We spoke about not judging people who didn’t come to us for a hug.  Some people look really busy or sad, but walked by us, and I found myself wanting to give them a hug because I thought they really needed it.  I also found myself feeling hurt when people weren’t responding the way I had expected, and judging them for this.

Judging others in this way made me more aware of my own inner workings; such as my need for approval, how quickly I form judgments, the way outcomes affect how I feel, and why I get so invested into how I think things should be.  These learnings were unexpected yet invaluable, and has helped me continue to practice noticing what comes up for me in any given situation, and try to understand why.


Trust in the process

Once we got over our obsession with the attention people weren’t giving us, reconnected with our intentions, and let go of our attachment to outcomes, a funny thing happened.  We started to get hugs!  In fact, we gave out so many hugs for the next 45 minutes.  We connected with people, had great conversations, and many people told us that we made their day.


Here is a video of us getting and giving hugs:


Overall, our free hugs experiment was a success.  But more than the hugs, it made me grow in many ways.  It helped me do things I was afraid of, put myself out there, and learn more about myself.  Most of all, it made me realize that rejection from others has many layers to it, and it isn’t personal.  In fact, I’ve learned that without understanding and compassion, you cannot be with others, let alone hug them.


Reconnectfully Yours,