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Swedish City Takes on Loneliness With a Simple Hi

Residents of Luleå welcome new campaign encouraging them to say hello to each other during dark winter months.

Little sign saying 'hello' with a happy smile below it

During winter, residents in Scandinavia's northern climes only enjoy daylight for about three hours a day. According to research, the almost perpetual darkness can have an unfortunate side effect: loneliness. Researcher found that among 16- to 29-year-olds, almost half of them living in Luleå were experiencing problems as a result of loneliness. Among those aged 85 and over the figure was much lower - 39 percent among women and 26 percent among men. So, what to do about it?

Well, the city has launched a Säg hej! (say hello!) campaign. It aims to create a friendlier environment by nudging people towards small but significant social interactions. Adverts are running on buses, and workshops are being held in schools.

Hole cut in a frozen lake in Sweden

“It’s a really good thing that people say hi to each other. It means people who meet each other, don’t know each other, become a little happier,” says Pontus Wikström, 61, the chair of the winter bathing group Kallis Luleå. Yes, in deep winter, Swedes like to take a refreshing mood-boosting dip in icy waters.

“It’s like a happiness rush afterwards,” says Katariina Yliperttula, 44, who is taking a dip before work. She hardly ever swims in the summer, but started doing so frequently in the winter a couple of years ago.

The idea of saying hello to passers-by in order to generate a greater sense of wellbeing for both the giver and the recipient really came to the fore during Covid and the socially distant walks we all took as often as possible. So, there's no reason why the Säg hej! campaign in Luleå shouldn't provide some mood boosting assistance to help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness.

It's also a reminder for the rest of us to say hello more often, pick up the phone more often, and socialise as often as possible.

Camp fire in the snow

In northern Sweden, where winter months means up to 20 hours of darkness a day, staying positive during these cold months is challenging but, fortunately, residents have come up with a variety of strategies to make winters more fun and cozy. One of these strategies is illördag, or 'little Saturday', which, counter-intuitively, takes place on Wednesdays.

Many Nordic cultures treat Wednesdays as a day of mini celebration and fun to blow off steam and boost morale during long, dark nights. Constanze Leineweber, associate professor at the Stress Research Institute of Stockholm University, says that the concept of 'little Saturday' helps break up the work week and gives workers something to look forward to. Many pubs offer illördag discounts while families may choose to celebrate with campfires or delicious treats like oysters and champagne.

“Something like Little Saturdays can be quite wise in helping people to create structure and fulfillment,” Leineweber told BBC.


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