On the snowy shore of the northern Swedish metropolis of Luleå, the place, regardless of it being -10C, bathers are decreasing themselves into an oblong gap within the frozen seawater. The solar is already disappearing, and it’s barely 2pm. Quickly, in a month’s time, there shall be simply three hours of daylight daily.
“It’s like a happiness rush afterwards,” says Katariina Yliperttula, 44, who’s taking a dip earlier than work. She rarely swims in the summertime, however began doing so continuously within the winter a few years in the past.
Whereas many have their very own hobbies that hold them going by way of the chilly darkish winter months right here – ice swimming, cross-country snowboarding, strolling on the “ice street” out into the archipelago – one factor stays an issue: loneliness. In an try to counter that, authorities in Luleå have launched a marketing campaign to ease that social isolation, ever so barely, by encouraging folks to say howdy to 1 one other.
“It’s a very good factor that individuals say hello to one another. It means individuals who meet one another, don’t know one another, change into slightly happier,” says Pontus Wikström, 61, the chair of the winter bathing group Kallis Luleå.
The Säg hej! (say howdy!) marketing campaign says it goals to create a friendlier metropolis by nudging folks in the direction of small however important social interactions. Adverts are operating on buses, and workshops are being held in faculties.
Current analysis discovered that amongst 16- to 29-year-olds, 45% of individuals in Luleå had been experiencing issues because of loneliness. Amongst these aged 85 and over the determine was a lot decrease – 39% amongst ladies and 26% amongst males.
Micael Dahlen, a professor in wellbeing, welfare and happiness at Stockholm College of Economics, says that whereas loneliness – particularly among the many younger – is a worldwide drawback, maybe Sweden, with its darkish, chilly winters, is extra conscious of it.
“Loneliness and isolation are enormous issues any time of the 12 months nearly wherever on the earth proper now,” he says. “It comes with the time we reside in, the existence we have now, the place we don’t essentially come throughout one another to the identical extent as we used to. This accelerates in winter time once we’re outdoor much less, social much less.”
Åsa Koski, who works for Luleå municipality, got here up with the concept for the marketing campaign. She desires the town, which is present process a interval of speedy progress because it tries to draw tens of 1000’s of recent folks to work in “inexperienced” trade and different providers, to not develop extra atomised consequently.
“We don’t simply need that Luleå goes to develop as a metropolis; we wish Luleå to be a nice and protected and pleasant metropolis as effectively the place there’s tradition, leisure actions, sport,” says Koski.
Being greeted by strangers makes folks really feel “extra seen and a bit extra such as you belong”, she provides. “Analysis reveals that it has an impact on well being and infrequently an impact on wanting to assist one another. In the event you say hello to your neighbours you usually tend to assist them.”
In Luleå metropolis centre, whereas most agree that saying howdy is to be inspired, many say that the extra worldwide the town turns into, the friendlier and extra open its society.
Mee Younger Yim, 62, who moved to Luleå from the US 23 years in the past, says folks within the metropolis are “principally pleasant” however typically not at first. “Everybody’s a bit reserved, however in the event you ask then folks will enable you.”
When she first moved to Luleå, she discovered it a tradition shock as a result of she was used to everybody saying hello within the US. “However right here, particularly the previous, you say hello, and so they simply checked out me at first. Nevertheless it has modified quite a bit as effectively, as a result of we have now extra folks from overseas.”
Throughout the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic commentators joked that social distancing was nothing new for a lot of Swedes, who, because the journalist and writer Lisa Bjurwald put it, “wish to hold a remarkably broad so-called interpersonal distance … This rule has lengthy utilized to all facets of on a regular basis Swedish life, from navigating the grocery store aisles to ready on the bus cease. Sure, even when it rains.”
In line with Seyed Mohsen Hashemi, 25, a pupil residing within the close by village of Kallax, the state of affairs is even worse now. “Earlier than Covid it was 50-50: some folks stated hello to one another. However after Covid folks have change into extra scared to have contact with strangers,” he says.
When folks greet one another much less, they change into “extra remoted”, says Hashemi, they make much less contact with folks and change into susceptible to despair. “One hej can change a day for any individual.”
Hashemi, who was born in Iran and whose dad and mom are from Afghanistan, got here to Luleå 9 years in the past as a refugee. “I come from the Center East and folks used to say hello to one another. It’s impolite to not say hello to one another. However right here in the event you say hello to strangers they may say: ‘He’s drunk’,” he says, laughing.
Swedish folks, Hashemi, has discovered, take longer to heat up: “They have an inclination to know any individual for a very long time after which change into extra pleasant and open to that individual.”
Personally, Hashemi has discovered that vitamin D, gaming, work and research assist him get by way of the winter months – in addition to putting in a number of white lights in his dwelling.
Ronja Melin, 33, illustrator, who moved to Luleå from Skåne, in southern Sweden, in 2020, says she has all the time been a powerful advocate of claiming hello since she was a baby.
However the marketing campaign is a optimistic step. “You reside in your individual bubble rather a lot,” she says. “To note folks is all the time vital.”