Sometimes, something as simple as seeing a glossy red heart pop up in our text messages is all it takes to brighten our day. For the people of Akureyri, Iceland, that little boost of oxytocin is not limited to the whims of loved ones wishing them well, however. All they have to do to get a flash of that universally uplifting symbol is take a trip to the nearest crosswalk.
Following the nation’s 2008 financial crisis, Iceland’s second city, which sits on the doorstep of the Arctic Circle, implemented a simple yet elegant approach to lifting the communal spirit: transforming the city’s harsh red traffic lights into radiating red hearts.
The move came as part of the larger Brostu Með Hjartanu, or Smile With Your Heart, campaign. Residents were encouraged to join the morale-boosting efforts by hanging hearts fashioned out of forget-me-not flowers from the windows of their cars, homes, and offices. Around the same time, the city also unveiled a massive heart installation on nearby Mount Vaðlaheiði that was designed to appear as if it was beating with the help of some 400 light bulbs.
More than just a gimmick to get residents through a tough time, the heart-shaped traffic lights have become permanent fixtures of the city. Though the football-field-sized installation on Mount Vaðlaheiði no longer shines, over the years rumors have circulated about reinstalling the quite literally heartwarming display. Perhaps there’s no better time than now.
As the people of Akureyri know all too well, daily reminders of love, hope, and community can have a big impact when things are looking as bleak as an Icelandic winter. For so many of us on lockdown, the thought of traveling as far as the crosswalks in our own backyards seems uncertain, let alone hopping on an international flight to see these feel-good traffic lights in person.
But much as Akureyri has done the impossible by bringing smiles to the faces of those stuck in traffic, maybe, even from afar, these heart-shaped beacons of hope will be just the reminder we need to keep our spirits high today, and keep smiling in the days to come.