The Power of Hugs

There are many ways to hug, the bear hug, cheek hug, sandwich hug, group hug, back-to-front hug, side-to-side hug… yes hugs come in all shapes and sizes!  One thing they all seem to have in common though is that when given authentically, they have the power to really make you feel good.  In fact, they are scientifically proven to be good for you.  Research by Grewen and Light, two hug-happy US psychologists showed that the act of hugging causes the brain to release the chemical oxytocin.  Oxytocin is cardio protective, which means that it protects the heart.  So, in other words, when you hug someone you’re actually doing your heart some good – and theirs too!

According to Kathleen Keeting, mental health counselor, consultant and author of The Little Book of Hugs hugging not only feels good and produces heart loving oxytocins, but also has the power to:

  • Dispel loneliness
  • Overcome fears
  • Open doors to feelings
  • Build self esteem (“Wow! She actually wants to hug me!”)
  • Foster altruism (“I can’t believe it, but I actually want to hug that old fart!)
  • Slow down aging; huggers stay younger longer
  • Curb appetite; we eat less when nourished by hugs
  • Ease tension
  • Fight insomnia
  • Offer a healthy alternative to alcohol and drugs
  • Affirm physical being
  • Make happy days happier
  • Make impossible days possible

What’s more the power of the hug keeps working to dispense benefits long after the hug’s release!   But before you rush off and hug the next passer by in the street to get your daily oxytocin boost, be sure the hugs you share are thoughtful, respectful and care-filled.    Hugging is something we are able to give naturally as children when we are very young, but if hugs aren’t modeled to us frequently as children we can be left a bit uncertain about how to hug, we may even feel unhuggable.  Hugs have the power to heal, if we open ourselves up to giving and receiving them.  Offering a hug to someone requires the strength to be vulnerable, because of the risk that the hug may be rebuffed or misinterpreted.  But it is a risk well worth taking as Jaun Man, founder of  the Free Hugs Campaign discovered when he first set out to offer hugs to strangers.

In the summer of 2004, Man headed to Pitt Street Mall in Sydney carrying with him a huge sign with the words FREE HUGS printed big and bold.  He didn’t thrust hugs upon people, he offered them openly and with kindness.  Yet it took 15 minutes and hundreds of passers by before someone stopped to have a hug.  After their brief embrace she remarked “Young man, don’t ever stop what you’re doing, it means more than you’ll ever know”.  Not only did the hug transform that lady’s day, but Man says it changed his life.  The confidence that first hug gave him carried him through from hug to hug, and six years on, his hugging movement has reached far and wide across the globe, with groups of huggers going out onto the streets offering free hugs daily from Russia to China and Poland to Australia.

In our stand-offish society many of us are weary of hugging and have not learned to ask for the emotional support we need.  If hugs don’t come your way often, be brave and ask a friend or loved one for a hug!  Pave the way by asking “I would like to give you a hug, if that’s all right with you?”.  If you are hugging someone for the first time, pay attention to your intuition on what feels acceptable, as levels of hugginess will vary from person to person.  Some people will need to feel sturdy trust before they feel safe enough to hug. Respect other peoples responses to giving/receiving hugs. A post hug ‘thank you’ or ‘that felt good’ is often a nice way to validate a shared hug.

Hugs come naturally to very young children because they are instinctively open to giving and receiving love and touch.  If you have children be sure to hug them often, with affection, tenderness, support and playfulness; so that they grow up centered, balanced, happy, healthy and able to give and receive great hugs!

In The Illustrated Guide to Free Hugs Man mentions the flow-on effect of hugs, explaining that someone might not fancy a hug, but maybe inspired to extend an offer of kindness to someone else.  In this way they get a kind of metaphoric hug.  Metaphoric hugs can be just as powerful as physical hugs because as Dr David Hamilton explains in Why Kindness Is Good For You, performing acts of kindness releases the same oxytocin neuropeptide as full on bear hugs do.

“When hugging permeates a company it becomes a people-centric culture” Jack Mitchell.

Not only are hugs good for happiness and health, they are also good for business.  In Hug Your People top CEO, inspirational author and speaker, Jack Mitchell explains how metaphoric hugs help build energised, focused teams, which he claims are at the heart of every great organization.   He introduces his concept of hugs as an important managerial mindset and shares this 5 step hug based blueprint for business success:

  1. Be NICE – because how you treat one another is as important as how you treat your customers
  2. Learn to TRUST – it’s a crucial part of building strong working teams
  3. Instil PRIDE – in your team and the work that they do; give them all the ‘tools’ they need to do their jobs well
  4. Try to INCLUDE your team in decision-making processes; you can’t do it alone, so reach out for their input
  5. Generously RECOGNISE the contributions made and celebrate victories, big and small, because they all count

Whether up close and personal or a metaphoric hug in the form of an act of kindness towards another human being – give a hug to someone, somewhere each and every day.  Your health, happiness and business will thank you for it, as will all the other people you reach out to in heartfelt hugging way.

“The smallest gesture can have the greatest difference. A smile from a stranger, a kind word from a friend, a thank you from a loved one. A hug from someone who cares. Alone one person can make a difference. Together, we can change the world.” Juan Man

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