Are you a social hugger? I’m not especially. I don’t recoil in horror if someone spreads their arms and leans in to squish their body parts close to mine, but for the most part, I’m fine with a plain old “hi” or “goodbye.”
However, I’m putting a little more thought into this position. I recently read an article stating that the recommended daily allowance of hugs is 8. It states 12 is needed for growth, and 4 hugs per day is the bare minimum for survival.
Did you read that? Survival! If you don’t get enough hugs, then kerploop, you kick the bucket.
That sounds rather alarmist, for sure. Yet neonatal experts know that babies require skin-to-skin contact to thrive. Why would this not hold true, at least to some extent, for adults as well? Purported benefits of hugging include reducing stress, healing, improving moods and raising self-esteem. With the right kind of hug from the right kind of acquaintance, I’d say all these things are true.
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But random hugs from indiscriminate huggers? Are those also healing?
I heard about a woman who was driving her car while bawling her eyes out. A police officer pulled her over and ordered her to get out of the car. She assumed she’d been driving poorly, what with the crying and all. But rather than a reprimand or a ticket, he gave her a hug.
Driving while crying or stressed isn’t particularly safe. I’d venture that this action probably led to safer roads. And I’m sure the gesture improved her day.
Perhaps the reason I don’t go around hugging willy nilly is that I get plenty — well over my daily quota — mostly from my son. He’s been a cuddler since he was tiny, and hasn’t slowed down.
Through the years, when we first see each other — first thing in the morning, after school, after he emerges from a video game binge in the basement, etc. — I assume a particular stance for our greeting. I angle my body toward him, brace my knees, and bend my arms protectively across my chest. When I see him come, I tense, cringing, fearing the impact.
“Incoming!” I think, as he sprints toward me. When close enough, he hurls himself at me, nearly knocking me off my feet.
I didn’t think much of it until a mom who I was waiting with said, “I’ve never gotten a hug like that.” I realized I was lucky.
It’s not just hellos, either. At random points throughout the day, he might throw his arms up, and goofily yell, “Mommy! Huggy!” before flying in for a cuddle. He slumps against me when we’re spectating, causing me to overheat as my back aches under his weight. He’s toned it down slightly now that he’s taller than me, substituting the impact for a boa constrictor hug.
I’m blessed. Bruised and blessed, but not complaining about his exuberant displays of affection. And yes, they improve my self-esteem, they heal our disagreements, and they keep us more relaxed. They do everything a hug is supposed to do.
I should hug others more — share the therapeutic benefits of contact and contribute to others’ eight-hug daily quotas. Giving a hug is a wealth we can spread without losing a thing. It’s an underutilized child-correction technique. I’ve found a hug and a gentle explanation are equally effective as dishing out a punishment for less-than-desirable behavior.
It’s a simple act that gives so much more than a hello or goodbye.
Have you hugged your (fill in the blank) today? Eight times? You better get on it!
Overland Park mom Emily Parnell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at emily@emilyjparnell. On Twitter: @emilyjparnell.