It doesn’t matter where you live or the language you speak, a hug can communicate so much without words. Hugs can be:
- A greeting – “Hi, I’ve been thinking of you”
- Comforting – “I’m here for you in this difficult time”
- Bonding – “I’m glad to know you”
- Romantic – “I’m so glad you’re mine”
I particularly like author Kathleen Keating’s definition of a hug as “to cherish, hold fast”.
Hugs are universal
Hugs are said to be universal, or very near to it. They are a natural human behavior, more so even than kissing which isn’t part of some cultures at all.
Hugs = trust
The most important factor to a successful hug is trust. Opening your arms shows you are vulnerable. Think about it. We cross our arms to protect ourselves. Therefore, opening our arms to someone is an expression of trust.
You just won’t feel the same benefits if the person you’re hugging is not a person you know and trust. Studies have shown that even hugging a friend will not evoke as many benefits as hugging a partner.
If you can’t get enough hugs from your fellow humans, then turn to your pets. Hugging pets can work just as well, especially if they are the cuddly sort! You see, other mammals have used touch throughout history to promote trust. Think about cats nuzzling each other and animals linking trunks.
Let’s take a look at the many wonders of the mighty hug:
Hugs teach us sharing
A genuine hug between two people is not a one-sided gesture. There must be giving and receiving, reinforcing the notion of sharing with others. It also reminds us that relationships are mutual and have a need for both people to reach out for the connection to be formed.
Hugs are safety
The feeling of comfort and trust that is inherent in a hug is something that means more than words. Think about being away from someone. Even if you can speak to them all the time, you’ll still feel a need to touch them.
Hugs are an investment
Each hug you give is an expression of your interest and empathy for the other person. It is an investment in the future of your relationship.
Hugs are meditative
Meditation is an important way to break negative or cyclical thought patterns. Hugs can do the same thing, inviting us to be mindful in the moment. Hugs decrease the level of cortisol being released by the brain. This reduces feelings of stress and can have positive effects on depression and anxiety.
Hugs are connectedness
Hugging triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain, which buffers feelings of loneliness and isolation. Hugs ground you in a sense of belonging.
Hugs are relaxants
The nature of a hug automatically relaxes your muscles. This can relieve tension and pain.
Hugs boost immunity
Incredibly, the combination of pressure against your chest and the feelings a hug generates activate the thymus gland. This ensures your immune system can function well, by regulating the body’s production of disease-fighting white blood cells.
Hugs boost self-esteem
We all crave feelings of acceptance. Human touch is essential to feeling wanted. Hugging conjures unconsciousness memories of the loving touch of our parents from when we were very young. This reminds us we are worth loving and we experience a boost to our self-esteem.
Hugs are mood-boosters
Extended hugs increase your levels of the mood-booster, serotonin. If you’re feeling low it’s best not to withdraw, but turn to someone you love and give them a good, long squeeze.
Hugs for health
The many benefits of hugs can also improve our health. They calm the heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve quality of sleep, assist with weight loss and even prolong life.
When you next see your partner or loved ones, think about something family therapist Virginia Satir said: “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” This is how innate the act of hugging is to our ability to thrive as humans.
Promote healing and trust among those you care for. Give more hugs!