Hug ‘ology: Embrace the #HugLife

Give Hugs for Health & Happiness

We are on the brink of a new year. Americans have just endured a divisive election, and immediately afterward were awash with the onslaught of the Holiday season, where the media narrative focused more on how to survive Thanksgiving dinner with family that voted for your political rival than being — well, thankful. Everything is merry and bright, right?

Let’s be real about the holidays. ’Tis the season for traffic, endless shopping, company parties, great expectation, and the energy required to maintain the façade that everything is just s’wonderful, even when it’s not.

Ever need a hug?

In an eggnog nutshell, the holidays can mean lots of stress, and for some it can exacerbate feelings of loneliness.

Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben has written extensively on the concept of hyper-individualism and how Americans are steadily becoming the loneliest people on the planet.

In his book “Eaarth”: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, McKibben wrote that we have evolved “a neighbor-less lifestyle” and that “Americans eat half as many meals with family and friends as [we] did fifty years ago.” Overall, we report having fewer people in our lives that we can trust than we did in previous decades.

It’s no wonder that the prevalence of substance abuse, addictive forms of entertainment, and overeating are at an all-time high. These vices are coping mechanisms to fight off feelings of stress, fear, and uncertainty; they have taken the place of community and the close friends we can turn to in a crisis.

Despite the promises of futuristic technology, humans remain the same social beings designed to bond with other human beings. We need closeness — safe and physical relationships to survive. In the absence of human bonding, we become lonely and bond to the immaterial. We become susceptible to every kind of vice and the addictions that lead to illness and death.

The answer: We need more hugs.

A study by Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology, found that the closer the relationship between persons the more of our body we allow them to touch. And when we hug, massive amounts of endorphins are released that have an opiate-like, pain reducing response. Endorphins soothe physical pain as they do psychological pain, which may explain why hugs are so effective when someone is in tears.

Hugs are magical. Hugs increase oxytocin which produces feelings of warmth, connection, trust and safety. Hugs lower blood pressure, anxiety and stress. Hugs decrease anger, feelings of loneliness and isolation. Hugging for an extended amount of time, over 20 seconds, can even boost serotonin levels, self-esteem and the immune system. That’s right, hugging can keep you from getting sick.

Renowned family therapist Virginia Satir once said that we need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 hugs a day for maintenance and 12 hugs a day for growth. If hugs promote health, feelings of relaxation and happiness, something we all say we want, then we know what we must do: we have to up our hug quota! Hug family and friends hard and often. Go straight hugnado and hug strangers, when the feeling is right.

Who can refuse the sincerity of an open arm embrace? Only the person who probably needs a hug the most. So be kind, patient and remember that to fear is human, but to hug is divine.

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