“Hugging is good medicine. It transfers energy and gives the person hugged an emotional lift. You need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth. Scientists say hugging is a form of communication because it can say things you don’t have the words for. The nicest thing about a hug is that you usually can’t give one without getting one.” –Sun Gazing
I don’t know where all this research comes from, but if the above is true, then I guess I’ve been seriously deficient in hugs for the last few decades of my life. I’ve read about research that says hugs lower blood pressure and raise levels of the hormone oxytocin, which calms your nervous system and allows you to establish connections with others and banishes feelings of loneliness and isolation. Serotonin levels also go up when we hug, brightening our mood. Hugs can lower cortisol, a stress hormone, which helps to regulate sleep patterns and cardiovascular health. I just don’t know how the researchers came by the numbers of hugs that are necessary for wellbeing and growth.
Hugs help us learn to give and receive, and to be present in the moment. Hugs encourage honest communication, empathy and understanding. They increase our sense of security, stability, and happiness. Hugs are especially important for infants and young children, because they help to establish emotional as well as physical health.
The average hug is only about three seconds. Some say that hugs of twenty seconds are the ideal, but when you count out that much time, that’s a pretty long hug. Lovers might do this, but this is not the type of hug that you can do when you meet a friend at a party. Kids don’t generally stick around for hugs much longer than a few seconds, either, much as we may wish they would.
As one online blogger, poofcat.com, put it, “Hugging is nearly perfect. There are no removable parts, batteries to wear out, no periodic checkups. It comes little energy, while yielding a lot. It’s inflation-proof. It’s nonfattening. There are no monthly payments. No insurance requirements. It’s theft-proof, nontaxable, nonpolluting, and fully refundable. And it costs very little.” The blogger also points out that as a drug, hugging has
“no unpleasant side-effects.” Poofcat also says, “Although hugs are free, they’re worthless if they aren’t used. An unused hug is lost forever.”
Hugs are not the only way we touch other people, however, which is a good thing. Even a handshake gives us some skin-to-skin contact, and a pat on the back or a light touch on the arm can suffice to show goodwill and affection. Petting your cat or dog will also give you some of the same benefits as human-to-human touch. For those of us who are single and not in a relationship, live far from family, don’t have a lot of “huggy” friends and don’t have a pet, a therapeutic massage is a good option. One of the best places to get friendly hugs, or at least handshakes, is at church.
Not everyone is comfortable with a full frontal hug. The side hug is something a lot of guys have gotten used to doing. Some people who don’t like hugging every Tom, Dick and Harry in the room prefer to stick with a handshake or a fist bump. It sometimes gets a little awkward if one person wants to hug and the other one doesn’t, but it seems clear that the best compromise, socially speaking, is to defer to the person who prefers less contact.
Hugging is more acceptable in some cultures than others. In Japan, people don’t do a lot of touching, so after living there for ten years, I was a little uncomfortable when I moved back to the United States. In addition, while I was out of the country, American culture had undergone some changes, and it became a lot more acceptable for non-family to give and receive hugs. An American friend of mine who lived in Japan about as long as I did went back to the States before I did. Her advice to me on re-entering American culture: “Watch out: Americans do a lot of hugging nowadays.” It was true, and I was very surprised when I got back to this country.
Not long ago, a young man started a “Free Hugs” campaign that has been replicated all over the world. You can read more about it here.
These days, I generally get a hug maybe once or twice a month, and that seems to work OK for me. I don’t think I’m emotionally starving or anything. I do miss having a kitty to love, but I am living in an apartment where animals are not allowed unless you have a doctor’s orders. It would be nice to be in a romantic relationship, but that doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards, either, at the moment. Besides, I haven’t been in a relationship for many years, and I’m holding up pretty well, if I do say so, myself. So, while the researchers may say that we need at least four hugs a day, at least one of which should last a full twenty seconds, I know by experience that we can live a perfectly good life on much less. I am grateful for friends who give nice hugs, though, when I can get them, which is not often. And my friends are not shy about saying, “I love you,” either. I am content. 🙂