If you ever need to be reminded of the goodness that exists in the world, a quick stop to the town of Akureyri is sure to do the trick. All over the town are hearts — in the red of the stoplights, in the windows of shops and houses; one huge heart even appears on the side of Mt. Vaðlaheiði.
These adorable additions to the city started appearing in 2008, when the finance crash in Iceland brought the general mood of the population especially low. Local publishing house Ásprent-Stíll and Visit Akureyri organized the “Smile With Your Heart” project, or “Brostu Með Hjartanu,” an initiative created for no other reason than to spark an optimistic mindset in the wake of the negativity that followed the economic crisis. Along with the red hearts in traffic lights are red hearts made out of forget-me-nots, poetry and proverbs written on various walls in the town, and perhaps the most impressive: a huge electric heart that “beats” on the side of Mt. Vaðlaheiði. The local electrical company took initiative in the project to create the heart, which is as large as a football field and contains about 400 bulbs. It was originally red but now it’s lit with white lights and used to beat regularly from the end of November until April, inspiring hope in those cold winter months. As of late it hasn’t been actively “beating,” but the plan is to get it going once again.
So if you’re in Iceland, be sure to stop by Akureyri — the small city that’s determined to keep smiling, even when times are tough. You’ll be sure to find some inspiration in the locals’ spirit.