When I throw a party, I find myself kissing and being kissed by people I’d never dream of kissing otherwise. I don’t like the insincerity of an air kiss, the wetness of a cheek kiss, and don’t even come near me if you are a lip-kisser. If you absolutely need to kiss me, then blow one. Those are cute. If you want to come in for a big bear hug, I’ll absolutely oblige. Hugs save lives. You can Google it and see examples from dogs avoiding euthanasia, and a hero mitigating the number of deaths by a suicide bomber, all with a hug. We don’t need to give heroic hugs but everyday hugs can make someone’s life a little bit better.
Recently, I’ve had two remarkable and inspiring hugs. The first was from my oldest son over winter break. I had been haranguing him about a housekeeping issue. He wasn’t responding the way I wanted him to, so I got a little meaner and realized that I owed him an apology. I said I was sorry and looked at him waiting for a response. Next thing I knew he opened his arms and gave me a hug. That is the first time I’ve ever known that one of my apologies was truly accepted. Shortly after that, my dog of fifteen years died, and a neighbor I don’t know that well pulled me into a hug in the middle of the grocery store!
Historically, I’ve never been a big hugger but I became interested in hugging for a few reasons. I learned that if you maintain a hug for more than four seconds, your brain releases two of your body’s “happy chemicals,” serotonin and oxytocin, which makes you feel good. While eating chocolate causes a release of dopamine, another happy chemical, hugs won’t cause weight gain! My new interest in hugging, led me to read The Ten Essential Hugs of Life by Roy Spence. Mr. Spence claims to have gotten rich by hugging pretty much everyone he encountered in his life from waitresses to CEOs. Lastly, my hairdresser made a comment that confirmed my suspicion that hugs may well be life saving.
Rebecca and I were discussing the new Illinois law that requires all salon workers complete domestic violence training in order to maintain their licenses. Rebecca said that the Listen. Support. Connect. training would be helpful. “Do you know that for some of my clients, my touch will be the only kind touch they get every six weeks?” No. I’ve never considered that. As a wife, and mother of four kids, and two dogs, I never thought about people living alone with little physical contact, or living in an abusive home, with unfriendly physical contact. My four-second hug could make someone ‘s life a little better.
I wasn’t comfortable just giving people hugs, so I had some stickers made up that say, “I Give Hugs.” Whether people read them or not, I don’t know. The kids in my classes loved them but I found that they didn’t work in the outside world. One woman suggested that people aren’t comfortable reading things affixed to a woman’s chest. So in addition to wearing the stickers, I began asking people if I can give them hugs, and all of them have said yes. I injured my knee recently and have taken to asking my doctors for hugs before they give me news about my prognosis. One doctor had no problem with the hug; the other gave me a “Christian Side Hug.” I don’t know how they felt about the hugs but it made me feel better, and I just so happened to get good news. I find that I now like to say hello to my friends with a hug. I prefer it to a handshake or the dreaded kiss.
As far as greetings go, the handshake is said to have originated as a sign of peace to show you have no weapons, and social kissing, in addition to being gross, has too many rules, and permission is never asked. The hug is great, no germs spread and unlike with kissing, the huggers are on equal standing. The beauty of the hug is that they are so all encompassing that you don’t think of anything else while giving or receiving one. Both huggers feel safe and loved in that short moment. So besides the release of feel-good hormones, and the prospect of getting rich, the last and probably most powerful reason to start hugging is because you may give someone a moment of comfort.
No hugmaker’s kids here! I’ve started to hug my kids more, which initially received a chilly reception. Like one of my doctors, they try to give me a Christian Side Hug but I pull them close. The other night my seventeen year old came up to see me while I was brushing my teeth. I looked at him to see what he wanted fully expecting a request for a special breakfast or money for something. “I just came up to give you a hug.”