Many of us have seen the quote, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” I believe it and I say it, but I got curious about who said it. A quick Google search led me to Virginia Satir, a social worker known as the “Mother of Family Therapy.” She was an insightful woman, an amazing author, and a social therapy pioneer with world influence. She used her models of family therapy as seeds for world peace: “The family is a microcosm. By knowing how to heal the family, I know how to heal the world.”
But hugs – let’s get back to hugs. I doubt that Satir did any double-blind research to validate her statement. But lots of research since has shown the value of hugs. Hugs increase healing, oxytocin and serotonin levels; relaxes muscles; makes us feel safe, serene and happy; lowers blood pressure and stress; on and on. Think about all the medications we take to address these same issues. And hugs have no negative side effects, unless you hug a stranger who doesn’t want to be hugged.
If you are a hugger, like me, you know these things to be true, know it in your bones. The comforting feelings that flood the body have to be a good thing for us. If you want all the health effects of hugging, they have to be long, heart-to-heart hugs, say 20 seconds. But that’s not an impediment for huggers, and I wouldn’t stop hugging for short bursts just because my serotonin level doesn’t drop as far. I still get happier and more tranquil/serene with every hug. It’s an instant de-stressor.
There’s another strategy to get these benefits even if you can’t see yourself hugging for 20 seconds. Sit close to someone you love and put your arm around them or hold their hand. Have your child lay his head in your lap and stroke his forehead. Hold a (calm) baby in your arms. These are all activities you can do for long periods of time that will probably give you the same benefits. I haven’t done the research to verify this, but conduct your own investigation!
I even encouraged hugging back at work. Lots of people wandered down to my department to enjoy the vibe and get a free hug. It was happiness therapy. One guy told me he had never hugged another person outside his family. Wow; glad I could help him.
Of course hugging is easy for me; my sisters and some of my friends are world-class huggers. We believe in this body-wisdom and make a point of hugging when we meet, when we separate, and at multiple points in between. Some people may have to work to get their quota in. But it’s a worthwhile goal.
So let’s not wait until National Hugging Day (January 21). Give and get your hugs every day, and grow or even thrive.
See these other self-care essays:
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