A National Hug Day is a brilliant idea. Here’s why. People are desperate to be happy, it is an ultimate end, something we eternally strive for. But our society has a warped conception of happiness. We equate success with a small, arbitrary set of career paths and we are told if we pursue this narrow path, we will be happy.
But happiness cannot be put off for another time. It is now. And that means being engaged with the world and inspired by it. Happiness and social understanding requires recognition of others. It requires understanding their position and wanting to unveil the infinite layers of their complexity. Humans are social animals. We need to relate with others. It feels good when someone says hello to you, or holds the door for you. Why? Because it is an acknowledgment of your presence. It is a grand realization that we all have something to learn from one another and we can all work to make each other happy.
We do not have to live in a Hobbesian state of nature. We can be civil and respectful and exercise basic manners, but why stop there? We can extend ourselves in beautiful ways. We can compliment someone, we can incorporate random acts of kindness into our every day lives. We can hug, hug, hug. Life is short and we have nothing to lose by being nice and joyful.
Last summer one of my best friends in New York City was a cab driver who drove me to my apartment in Harlem the first day I arrived in the city. I spent much of the summer sitting in the front of his cab as he did his rounds. Our ritual became that we would engage the passengers in conversation as we drove them to their destination. Some of course were quite surly, but the majority were desperate to talk. In the span of a 20- or 30-minute cab ride they would tell us more about their lives than I am sure they told most of their close friends. They knew they would never see us again, so they could open up to us without being embarrassed. The interactions were beautiful and there was always a mutual feeling of happiness by the time we reached the final destination. I learned from this experience that people often want spontaneous interactions with others and that these basic acts of opening oneself to others make people happy.
If we do not want to feel depressed about the weather, classes, small arguments with friends or any other little grievances that we may have, then we must constantly incorporate beautiful experiences into our lives. We must dance and explore and imagine and fill our life with poetry, mystery, lovely smells and sights, culture, nature, and perhaps the most beautiful thing of them all, spontaneous positive encounters with random people. There needs to be a lot more hugging in this world and a lot less selfishness, jealousy, greed and war.
I remember working for a human rights NGO where some of the employees were just plain rude to others. I found it so strange that they were working for human rights but they could not exhibit basic respect for humans in their daily lives. I think this demonstrates that we can all work to incorporate more kindness into our lives.
This perspective can of course be dismissed as idealistic. Everything good can be dismissed as idealistic. But at the end of the day the feeling you get from hugging someone who needs a hug, or smiling at a passerby, that is a feeling that no one can deny makes you feel good. There is power in kindness, power in simple gestures. Ultimately goodness and kindness prevail. So let’s awaken ourselves, make ourselves conscious of everyone else around us and think about how we can make their day and our own all the more beautiful. A hug is a good start and if we begin a movement of gestures like this it will be the beginning of a philosophical revolution based on kindness that will change the world for the better.
Justine Kolata is a junior in Morse College and the founder and executive director of the Movement for Beauty and Justice.