Declaration of Intent
It started in junior high. I was in the depths of puberty discovering who I was. I had friends that I genuinely cared for, not just friends of common interest or shared circumstance like in elementary school. These were friends that I genuinely loved for who they were. I discovered that it okay to hug people other than my parents. In fact, it was nice to hug the people I loved.
I went on a hugging spree. I hugged almost everyone each time I saw them. I hugged people I had just met, I hugged people I had known for years. I hugged people when I said hello, I hugged people goodbye. I hugged people who were having a rough day, I hugged people who were on top of the world. I even developed a reputation for being “a great hugger.”
I brought this habit with me to high school, hugging the numerous new friends I made. My first year at college was a little different. I did not know most of the people around me, and I was learning how to live away from home and away those I knew. I became somewhat lonely and reserved. I dialed back on my hugging tendencies. I was hesitant to approach people because I didn’t know how they felt about hugging. I didn’t have my reputation to precede me. Then, I left.
In 2012, I set out as a proselyting missionary for my church. This two-year expedition was a full-time dedication to teaching and giving service. As representatives of the church, missionaries are encouraged to maintain a professional air by refraining from certain social behaviors, among other things. Guess what one of those behaviors was?
The go-to greeting and valediction was a firm handshake. I spent day in and day out shaking hands with those I met. Few and far-between were the hugs. When I was hugged, it was typically by individuals who knew the guidelines of missionaries, but decided to disregard them. When a southern bell grandmother is intent on giving you a hug, it happens.
I returned from my mission over two years ago, yet my inhibition remains. I attend a university sponsored by my church where many of my classmates share my same faith. They also served missions and had similar experiences, living by the same guidelines. This creates a bizarre culture where hugging is reserved for those that you are romantically interested in, or those that are already close to you. I intend to break down this behavior.
Human beings are wired for physical contact. Studies have repeatedly shown that, even from birth, humans need to be held. In Romanian orphanages of the 80s and 90s, unheld children showed stunted growth, mental problems, and emotional issues. Physical contact causes the hormone oxytocin to be released into the body, creating feelings of connection and trust. Hugs reduce stress by decreasing cortisol levels, reducing heart rate, and lowering blood pressure leading to a longer, more enjoyable life. Hugs also helps fight off depression and anxiety. This same physical response promotes mental growth through increased memory and problem solving. It also promotes resilience, making you less likely to get a cold during finals.
Hugs are amazing. Most everyone enjoys a genuine hug from someone who cares, even if they are not the best of friends. In a collegiate community, where most individuals live away from friends and loved ones, many are past due for a good hug. I intend to hug most everyone I reasonably can. You have been warned; be aware. My hope is to spread the joy and love that every human being deserves to feel. If we cross paths, don’t hesitate to approach me with a hug of your own; my intention has been declared.