All’s Well, Who Hugs Well

“May we greet each other with a smile, hug and speak kind words” (1). This would be an ideal greeting, but there is a part of this greeting that not everyone finds enjoyable-the hug. I love a good hug. I do not like bad hugs. Some people say that they do not like huggingYet, some of these people perform the hug act. Hugging is a part of our culture, but what does how a person performs this act say about them? Why do I care?

We hug in a variety of contexts, such as greeting friends and family, as a ‘goodbye’ gesture, when congratulating someone, to console someone or show support, to show affection between intimate relationships, etc. My focus is on the non-romantic, but familiar hug. A hug is considered an international form of physical intimacy in which two people put their arms around the neck, back, or waist of one another and holds each other closely. A hug can range from a brief one second squeeze, with the arms not fully around the partner, to an extended holding. The length of a hug in any situation is socially and culturally determined. It is a form of non-verbal communication. A hug usually demonstrates affection and emotional warmth.

I started paying attention to the art of hugging after I was in a car accident. I started thinking about death, life, all the things that I like to do, all of the people who I care about in my life. After that accident, I yearned to be around close friends and family. I did not want to talk so much, yet I felt the need to connect with them intimately in a nonverbal way. What better way to feed this need than by receiving an extended form of touch, a hug. This is what I thought. After seeking this act consciously, I realized how many folks are non-huggers or unconscious huggers and how/why this makes a difference. I realized that people do not know the importance of the hug. In addition, this is not a topic that is spoken or written about much and I became more curious about it. I started asking questions to those who I considered bad huggers and commenting to folks who extended good hugs.

A hug is usually extended to those with whom one is familiar. This gesture is usually the next step from the handshake. I have experienced some bad hugs and have wondered why one gives a forced, bad, or unconscious hug, at all. I feel dirty after one of these hugs and would rather forego the hug, altogether. These are some hugs that I have experienced and consider them as being bad hugs and ones that I do not want to experience again. I consider a hug “bad” when it is not reciprocated. Why hug, if you do not want to. I would take a handshake over an unreciprocated hug any day of the week. Another is when people give weak hugs, like they’re afraid to touch you. They leave an awkward leaning-forward-gap, like they don’t trust themselves. They overdo the gap. “Geez. I’m going to leave such a gap to make sure there is no touching of anything.” Then they round out the weak hug, by giving you a “church” pat, when you are not in church and your relationship is above one such as that of a member of a congregation. This hug is very superficial and useless. Why bother? Just shake my hand.

I found that the skill to perform this act well is undervalued, at least around my family and close friends. It is a great communication tool and everyone is NOT good at it. A good hug does a lot of positive things. However, it’s often performed as just a quick, fleeting, sometimes annoying requirement when interacting with people. It’s a give and take activity and is beneficial if it is reciprocated. Generally, I would consider a good hug between familiars would be at least upper body contact and a rub on their back, not a pat. This says that, “it’s really great to see/be with you” or that, “I’m here for you.”

The best hug that I’ve had so far in my life came from a person with whom I worked. I completed his paperwork and coordinated his work life. His term was only for a year and I saw him maybe about three times in person within that year. When he was getting ready to leave the program, he brought me some documents and he gave me a hug that I would not forget. I made a note about this guy and notated that he really knows how to give a hug. He wrapped his arms around me firmly and stood there for minutes. There was no patting or rubbing. He just held me. There was not an over gap, but there was not a sexual closeness, either. There were others present. When it was over, I was happy and reeling because I was experiencing the hug that I yearned for after that car accident from this guy who was not in my family nor was he a close friend. I commented to him and others about the quality of the hug. What did that hug say to me? “I appreciate you and all that you are.” What a beautiful thing to non-verbally communicate. He was consciously hugging me and I felt it.

People do not consider hugs as a conscious activity. I encourage you to consider hugging people consciously from here on or consider shaking their hand, instead. That’s not to say you leap on every single person you interact with like a lion on its prey, but take the time, when appropriate, to hug fully, properly and authentically, knowing the positive effect it will have on the recipient.

I am not saying to hug if you do not like it. I am intending to get the person who does not like to hug to not hug and shake hands instead of doing something s/he does not like. It is a win/win for both parties. If you don’t like to hug, extend a hand, we’ll understand.

A hug is a silent way of saying…you matter to me. So, don’t just think your next hug, feel your next hug.

1. Lailah Akita, Beautiful Quotes