Why I chose hugs...or how they chose me.

Have you ever watched a video that changed your life? Perhaps not in the actual moment, but because of that video you took a small step toward something you didn’t know existed until watching it?

Welcome to my story. It didn’t happen after the first viewing or even the second. Yet, I kept being drawn to watch Juan Mann’s free hug video over and over again. Even though the encounters were brief, they were powerful filled with kindness, compassion, LOVE and smiles. The feeling began to live within me.

I had just started Positive Focus when I came upon the video and each time I watched it, I knew it was aligned to what I wanted to create, I just never knew how much it was part of my mission as I was NOT a hugger and frankly the idea of offering hugs to strangers TERRIFIED ME.

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So, on January 26, 2008, I stepped out of my comfort zone and onto a cold wintry Chicago street to offer free hugs to strangers. It seemed simple enough. Create a free hug sign, grab a couple of friends, and find a public place to open our arms and start hugging.

Simple? No!! Worthwhile? Yes!!!

Watching the video was the easy part. Creating the signs was equally easy. Asking friends to join me was a bit more challenging, but they still said yes. Finding the location took a little more work than anticipated, but I found one. But the biggest challenge of all was overcoming my own fear of doing it. I was a friendly, inviting person before hugs, but I was not a hugger… certainly not strangers. 

"Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing

to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”

- Brian Tracy

The location I chose was Navy Pier, and to offer hugs there, I had to sign a protest form. We were not allowed inside but could stand outside across the street. In fact, 11 years later, I still haven’t found places that allow us to offer hugs inside. It was a snowy wintry day in Chicago, and although we didn’t get many hugs, we got enough for me to FEEL the power of hugs at a soul level rather than an intellectual level.

One video. One event – started a lifelong journey of hugs and connection for me. It changed me at my core.

One step forward outside of my comfort zone. I started offering monthly hugs, and then it became twice a month as the Positive Focus community was loving it. By late summer, knowing the impact hugs was having locally, I decided to open it up to a global event and began asking people to join me from around the world to share in kindness with a simple gesture of a free hug.

What I have learned about myself and others from hugs:

  • My fear came from feeling vulnerable, offering hugs. What if I didn’t get any? What if people laughed at me? What if I got in trouble?

  • I learned facing my fears was powerful and not only worthwhile, but I LOVED it.

  • I learned that sharing a smile, a kind word, and having eye contact with people was shifting the energy and bringing in connection.

  • That people want to feel seen, heard, and to know they matter.

Since that cold Wintry Chicago day, I have:

  • Given and received thousands of hugs in Chicago

  • Created a global movement having huggers join me from 6 continents, 45 countries, 37 US states, and Desmond Tutu twice.

  • Held an Embrace Life tour and offered hugs in several cities in Croatia

  • Hugged people celebrating birthdays, engagements, good news, new jobs, and weddings.

  • Embraced people in sorrow from losing a loved one, a job, a breakup or divorce, or just feeling lonely and unseen. An older woman came into my arms crying that she missed her husband's hugs and he had just died a few weeks prior. We embraced and cried together.

  • Hugged police officers came through the line after a demonstration against police brutality, and you could see it in their eyes that they wanted people to see the good officers and not just the bad. They thanked us for our hugs.

  • Stood between two opposing protesters in a heated argument requesting them to calm down and be civil as there were children around.

  • I received an email from a man who came through our hug line. He said he had been sober for over a decade but was going through a rough time and was headed to the bar. Because of the hugs, he chose not to go to the bar.

  • Learned not to judge hugs. From heart-to-heart, bear hugs, or just someone barely touching me, each hug meets the person where they are at. I LOVE them all and feel deep gratitude for those who must step far out of their comfort zone even slightly to hug.

My journey with hugs hasn’t always been an easy one. Self-doubt often visits as the number of people joining me for hugs has lessened over the years. Has the impact of hugs run its course? Do I have what it takes to grow the vision? And then I pick up my sign, head to our Chicago corner, wait for that first hug, the second hug, and so on. I know that there will be at least one hug that tells me I was supposed to be out there for that person… and sometimes that person is me.

​​Big hugs and much LOVE,

Carol CC Miller

Positive Focus Founder