Had life not given him a reason to be down, a lot of strangers might never have known the healing power of a hug. John Beck, from Pennsylvania, was devastated after he lost his cousin three years ago. He was desperately trying to break out of his depressed state. And in a moment of inspiration he went to the city square and offered every willing stranger a big hug! Much to his surprise, he was soon overwhelmed with warm embraces from people he had never met before. And he realized that every time he surprised a fellow human and gave them joy with a free hug, he got one in return.

Beck realized that he was onto something special when strangers came eagerly forward to give him a hug. People were rushing out of their cars and soon they had got nearly 70 hugs.

The Beginning

His simple act was intended to help him out of his depression. But his endeavor at personal therapy soon became something big, a therapy for the community. He was instead healing others now. What started out as a healing process for himself was now helping other people and he realized that this was his calling.

The best part was when people began to share their stories with Beck. It stirred him to keep going. Talking to people who understood him was like music to his soul. A hug at the right moment and a kind shoulder to lean on were moments of intense magic that kept him moving towards hope. Beck knew that the most dismal period in a person’s life can be cured with a hug. It drives away the negativity that has seeped into our lives today.

Beck remembers a lady of 93 who was never married or had kids, recounting how she had been without a hug for 30 years. It was incidents like these that inspired him and kept him going.

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Spreading Love On Social Media 

Their Facebook page Free Hugs York Pa is all about peace, love, positivity, and definitely its most precious element, a free hug. It has no place for discrimination and no ulterior motives.

One post from Facebook reveals that a person craves a hug 13 times a day and an average hug lasts 9.5 seconds. But that is way below the 20 seconds it takes for a hug to have medical healing properties. So we need to increase the frequency of hugs and the time we devote to each hug. It could be the best four minutes we spend in a day.

People have wanted to know how Free Hugs was started. John Beck lost his little cousin in a swimming pool accident. He was confined to bed for a few days totally lost and depressed. After a few days, he managed to pull himself together. He put up a sign saying “free hugs”. What started out as a personal way to deal with an intense lost became a movement as people opened up to one another. Beck has still not managed to forget his bereavement but the sense of community helps him deal with even such intense personal loss.

The Free Hugs Project

Through the internet, he got to know about Ken E. Nwadike Jr., also known as the “Free Hugs Guy”. This homeless peace activist founded the Free Hugs Project, traveling the country sharing his journey as an enduring symbol of peace. Nwadike himself was devastated by the Boston Marathon terror attack in 2013 and decided to participate the next year. Though he fell short of the qualifying mark by just 23 seconds, he decided to participate in a unique way, by giving out free hugs to everybody. His simple act inspired runners and made national headlines. He continues in his quest to narrow the racial, political, and social divide in the country.

Their first free hug campaign started on July 8th, 2016. John Beck and Carla Christopher, community activist, braved a thunderstorm to give out free hugs to all those who needed love. They made signs and stood on West Market Street  to give out a free hug to complete strangers. They had hugged 70 people within an hour. Braving the thunderstorm, pedestrians and even motorists stepped out to exchange hugs.

Intense love can only be expressed with a big hug. The magic of a warm hug keeps us walking towards hope and makes all the wrongs in the world disappear. It speaks volumes while remaining silent. We forget that moments of intense joy are found in simple acts like a warm hug.

John Beck has realized that his highest calling is simply to stand and hug. And just by that simple act of a free hug, he has helped spread joy in innumerable lives. He maintains that his sole purpose is to inspire and motivate people to do something positive for themselves and for the community.