Coming out of a culture where hugging wasn’t commonplace, I had to learn to be comfortable with people frequently hugging and kissing when I moved to Belgium. But it didn’t take long before I enjoyed and loved this gracious and meaningful gesture, and I rapidly integrated it into my life. The amusing part was that when I visited my friends in Germany, they had a startled look on their faces when I hugged them and gave them three kisses. I hoped it brought them as much joy as it did for me.
Hugging has many positive aspects and is considered good medicine. Scientific research has shown that we need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth. Hugs also allow us to communicate with others when we don’t know how to express our feelings in words. And the best part is that we usually cannot give a hug without receiving one in return.
What do I feel when someone hugs me? I feel accepted and loved, a warm feeling of gratitude flows through me, and I put my whole being into my response hug. When I have the privilege to hug someone, I am grateful and wish the person much joy and happiness. And sometimes, yes, I can communicate my feelings better with a hug than with words. Our little Romeo, our loving and sweet Yorkie, is smothered in hugs and thriving. Yes, hugs are therapeutic; so dispense them freely!
Why does being hugged and giving a hug feel so good, and why do hugs make us feel happier? Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, a hormone released by the pituitary gland, which heals feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger. Oxytocin is a chemical in our bodies that scientists sometimes call the “cuddle hormone.” It causes a reduction in blood pressure and of the stress hormone norepinephrine. In simple words: Hugging makes us feel better.
I know that the scarceness of hugging in my childhood was not because I wasn’t loved. I was. After meditating on this subject, I came to the conclusion that it was part of the culture and influenced by the consequences of two world wars. My mother was loving, but she had a difficult time expressing it. She lost her mother when she was 10, lived through WWI as a child, then WWII as a young wife, giving birth to a baby daughter and a son, but losing the son because of a lack of medication caused by the war. Then I came along, but shortly afterward, she lost her husband, my father. So, she struggled as a single working mother with two young children, and although she was loving and nurturing, hugging was not a priority – surviving was.
I am grateful that I was exposed in my early adult years to lots of hugging and kissing. I quickly learned to love it and have carried it through my whole adult life. One can never get too many hugs. If you haven’t hugged someone lately, try it and pay attention to how it makes you feel. Not only will it bring happiness to you, but it will also bring joy to the one you hugged.
Silvia Coggin, CPC
Founder and Author of NotJustCooking.com