May 26, 2016

3 Reasons to Embrace the Lost Art of Hugging.


“For one moment our lives met, our souls touched.”~Oscar Wilde

I am lucky to live in a condominium complex that has a pool and a hot tub in operation during the spring and summer months. Most of the units are rented to college students during the year and when the icy Canadian winter slowly begins to thaw, vacationers come from the British Columbia coast and the Rocky Mountains to pay big bucks for weekly rentals. My daughter and I are some of the only occupants who live here all year round. It sometimes feels like I am Gene Hackman’s character in the “Royal Tannebaums” living in a hotel—as I watch the tourists come and go—but it works for us, for the most part.

The pool on the third floor recently opened, and so my daughter and I have been making daily treks to enjoy taking a dip or soaking in the hot tub. Despite what a fun and relaxing adventure this should be, I always feel a twinge of anxiety inside me as I make the ascent.

My daughter, who has difficultly with speech, loves people.

I have never seen a child who has such a natural interest in others. She loves to hug new people she meets everywhere we go, on land, or even in the water. The only problem with hugging in the water, is that it can feel very similar to drowning if someone is not above 5 feet tall. As a parent, I want to nurture this natural love of humankind, while teaching appropriate social skills. This has not been an easy feat, as I am aware of wide discrepancies in different people’s “personal bubbles.” She doesn’t see that bubble. She just sees someone for whom she wants to show care.

It really is quite beautiful.

Despite the beauty of her gesture, I am constantly trying to coach her on whom and when she should hug.

I had the same conversation on the way to the pool today. The weather was rainy and cold as we approached the pool (I was kind of hoping we were the only ones to brave the pool but Canadians are tough folks) and I told my daughter I would go sit in the hot tub while she was swimming. Just like many times before, when we arrived at the pool there was another family there (looking quite perfect I might add) that my daughter wanted to say hi to in her own unique way. I didn’t recognize them and knew they must be on vacation.

The two daughters from the family were in the pool, and my daughter was making her way over to greet them and engage with them to play. I hollered from the hot tub, “Remember, just wave hello if you want to say hi.” At that moment, I was praying she heeded my advice as I did not want to get in the cold pool.

She did. Thank God.

The mother of the girls nervously smiled as I sank back down in the hot tub and watched my daughter from afar. I then explained that my daughter has difficulty with speech and often hugs to show affection. She didn’t seem amused.

She responded, “Well most kids just don’t know what to do if…” I could feel my mama bear blood start to boil.

“If what?” I said, trying to maintain my composure. I wasn’t sure what she was going to say, but I had a pretty good idea I wasn’t going to like it.

“Well most kids don’t know what to do if someone hugs them.”

I instantly had a flashback of all the different children I had seen in my world travels. Thailand, India, Nepal, Mexico, even Hawaii, where embracing and hugging was “normal.” There was nothing odd about it. It was met with exactly what it should be met with. A returned hug.

I took a deep breath in, trying to be professional in the hot tub and said, “Well I guess it’s how kids are raised, and the culture they are raised in.” She started to backpedal. “Well, um, my girls have always been very conscientious and determined.”

I was confused. I didn’t know what “being conscientious” had to do with not hugging, but I knew she was right. Many kids and people in the western world don’t understand the importance of the act of hugging. We can get so busy organizing our day or checking our smartphones, that we forget to take the time to set our arms free to reach out and embrace someone in our lives.

This mom’s comment made me realize the “state of the hugging union.” Hugging should be as natural to us as putting gas in our car. It is a unique physiological way to fill ourselves up. In so many ways, hugging has become a lost art to many people. But it really is so important that it somehow needs to become part of our daily lives, whether it is from a lover, husband, wife, child, or friend.

Here are three benefits we receive when we participate in hugging:

1. Hugging increases oxytocin levels.

An elongated hug (up to 20 seconds) can increase oxytocin levels in your body. The same hormone that is released during orgasm or breastfeeding. It is considered the “love hormone.” And it doesn’t have to be from a significant other. Participating in the act of hugging with a friend, child, or loved-one can elicit the exact same benefits.

2. Hugging decreases cortisol levels.

Regular hugging lowers the “stress” hormone in our body called cortisol. Cortisol is one of the most toxic substances for the brain, and it is produced when we are in sustained, stressful situations. Hugging is the antidote to the cortisol produced from the stresses of daily life.

3. Hugging makes us happy.

In the following video, “Free Hugs in Sondrio, Italy,” you can see the look of absolute joy on all the faces of those who participate in receiving a free hug. When we hug we feel connection, and we feel joy.

No matter what culture we come from, we all need to be loved, and we all need to be hugged. The benefits are freely given to all that participate in the art of hugging. Spread the love. Share a hug.


Author: Wendy Haley

Image: Ruben Van Eijk/Flickr

Editor: Jean Weiss

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