Do You Need a Hug?

Harry hugging our cat TwylaA warm and fuzzy light bulb went off for me last week. It happened one evening when I returned home a little later than usual. My cat Twyla greeted me at the door wanting a belly rub, and then my son came over to give me a hug. Naturally, both were welcome exchanges after a long day. As I was basking in the tenderness of this “home sweet home” moment, I wondered if other people and even animals were also enjoying the benefits of hugging! And if there were other huggers out there, could the actions of this group actually elicit a positive effect that reached beyond the confines of our homes?

Before you call me delusional, let me explain my thought process. With all the stress, intensity and violence in the world today, just reading the paper or turning on the radio or television can be extremely unsettling. There is economic instability, political and religious strife, disease, racism, violence, war and death counts, all of which are completely beyond our control. This news is upsetting, maddening, perplexing, overwhelming, frightening, and so prevalent in the media that there is little escape. Not that I think we should ignore what is going on in the world, but I find myself needing to manage how much of it comes into my home at one time. And I wonder how this constant barrage of distressing news is affecting our psyche? How are we assimilating it? What is it doing to our children?

This is where the bit about hugging comes in! Think about the feelings you experience when someone close to you puts their arms around you, draws you in close and just holds you for a few moments. Whether that person is a partner, family member or friend, the feeling is consoling, heart-warming and reassuring. It is a very comforting place. Not surprisingly, studies show that hugging is good for us. It helps to relieve stress, depression and anxiety. It can elevate our serotonin levels, thereby boosting our moods. It relaxes muscles, releases tension in the body and aids in balancing our nervous system. In addition, it helps us to be present and in the moment, and reminds us that we are not alone. Those are pretty substantial perks, even though most of us don’t need a reason to share a hug!

But my light bulb moment went beyond the personal benefits of my homecoming hugs. I wondered if the warmth and loving feelings in my little microcosm, together with similar feelings from other microcosmos, could influence the larger macrocosm we live in. In other words, could the benefits of hugging and the good vibes it produces actually reverberate in a positive way around the globe. And by doing so, could hugging help to alleviate or mitigate the problems of our troubled world? I know this idea sounds far-fetched, and maybe even a little desperate. I guess I’m looking for ways to cope with our times. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any research on the global effects of hugging, but I did come across Shel Silverstein’s Hug O’ War poem.

I will not play tug o’war. I’d rather play hug o’war, where everyone hugs instead of tugs, where everyone giggles and rolls on the rug, where everyone kisses and everyone grins and everyone cuddles and everyone wins.

This poem and its child’s perspective would carry little weight in today’s current events, but let’s not belittle the message. If an act such as hugging–which is so simple, incurs no cost and requires relatively little effort–can offer such incredible benefits to all the parties involved, why aren’t we taking advantage of it! Who knows, if enough people made hugging a priority, we might just discover that it does spread good vibrations. And if it doesn’t, we can certainly enjoy trying. So, whether you are a hugger or huggee, I challenge you to ask for a hug today! It is likely to be one of the more precious moments of your day!