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Could Hugs be the Answer to the World’s Problems?

2013 February 7

Happiness is an unexpected hug. ~Author Unknown

hugsAre you a hugger? I’m a hugger and proud of it! Seriously, when was the last time you gave someone a big hug just because you felt like it?

Reaching out and touching someone, and holding them tight—is a way of saying you care. Best of all, its “feel good” effects are immediate for both the hugger and the person being hugged.

What is it about hugs that make them so comforting, even when they come from complete strangers? When we’re feeling low, getting a gentle squeeze provides comfort like nothing else. In fact, when it comes to our health, turns out the best thing we can do is open our arms.

A study at the University of North Carolina found that levels of cortisol, the hormone produced when we’re under stress, were significantly lowered (particularly in women) when subjects hugged their partners for at least twenty seconds. They also found that hugging instigates an elevated release of oxytocin, which is known as the “bonding” or “cuddle” hormone and prompts loving and caring feelings.

In addition, a previous study found that hugging and hand holding reduces the effects of stress. Two groups of couples were asked to talk about an angry event, but one group had previously held hands and hugged, while the others sat alone.

It was found that:

  • Blood pressure increased significantly more among the no-contact group as compared to the huggers.
  • Heart rate among those without contact increased 10 beats a minute, compared to five beats a minute for huggers.

According to Psychologist Virginia Satir, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” Hum, maybe instead of popping a vitamin pill or eating an apple a day we should think about reaching out for a hug a day. It just might be the most economical health and mood booster out there—it doesn’t cost a thing and the benefits, like a brighter day and a stronger heart, are priceless.

So what difference can a simple hug make?

The Hug Ladythe hug line

It doesn’t matter the weather or what hour of the night, if you’re a soldier flying through the Fort Hood, TX Robert Grey Airfield, the Hug Lady’s warm embrace is sure to be waiting for you.

Eighty-one-year old Elizabeth Laird has been there for nearly all flights in and out of Fort Hood since 2003. That’s an estimated 530,000 hugs. Laird said, “Hugs are good for you. You give somebody a hug and they smile and it lifts their spirits.”

Chief Warrant Officer II Jesse Griffin said after his arrival, “We were all going, ‘I wonder if the hug lady is there. I wonder if the hug lady is there,’ and I saw her coming through, so I whipped out my patch I had for her.” He said, “My family is not here, but it’s like she fills in for them.”

Patches are just some of the many tokens of appreciation Laird has received from soldiers over the years. So how long will the hugging continue? Laird said, “As long as God gives me the strength to do it and as long as they let me come out here and do it.” Laird said, “I can be hurting, I can be tired, as soon as I come through that door, it’s all lifted up, and I have the strength to carry on.”

And the troops are glad she does.

The Hugging Saint

amritapuri.orgIn the south of India lives a woman who has dedicated her life to helping others through the simplest of gestures — an embrace. She is said to have blessed and consoled more than 26 million people throughout the world.

In Malayalam, Amma’s native language, the name Amma means “mother” — an apt name for the woman revered as a holy being. Amma, known to many as the hugging saint, and often addresses massive crowds — as many as 200,000 packed into an outdoor space as big as a football field during her stop in Chennai. She has gained near superstar status among her followers around the world, all through her simple act of hugging.

Amma is not selling salvation or offering physical healing or a chance at prosperity. Instead, she seems to have tapped into a deep and essential human need — the need for affection and the human touch.

The Free Hugs CampaignHug the World

The Free Hugs Campaign began in Australia as Juan Mann’s attempt to make a difference and reach out to others to brighten their lives.

The effects and impact of the Free Hugs campaign became one of the earliest viral phenomena on YouTube and is one of the top viewed videos online of all time. (You can see the video by heading over to their website at the link provided above.)

Giving Free Hugs is meant to be a random act of kindness, a selfless act performed by a person for the sole reason of making others feel better and the movement has now spread to over 84 countries worldwide.

Back home in Hawaii

Over the RainbowA few years ago I had the opportunity to arrange air transportation to Maui for a group of Molokai residents for the purpose of attending our annual fair as special guests of the county.

Their visit would be private, before the gates officially opened because these special guests were among the few surviving patients of the former leper colony at Kalaupapa. Most were frail, a few in wheelchairs, and all carried the scars of their affliction.

Since we had a 2 hr gap between their arrival and the scheduled visit to the fair, I arranged to host the 23 visitors for breakfast at our regional aquarium, The Maui Ocean Center, where I happened to be the Director of Marketing at the time.

Since the trip was a rare event for the group, I wanted to make it as special as possible, but I had no idea what to expect – would they be offended if I took photos, was hugging (a natural part of most gatherings here) off limits, I didn’t know. But I do know Hawaiian hospitality, so I decided to just treat them the way I would any guests to my home-away-from-home.

My friends from the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel agreed to “loan” a few of their staff to play music and sing, and we danced hula. (Yes, that’s me in the photo dancing to Over the Rainbow) Before I knew it, those of our guests who could walk, were dancing hula right along with me. A couple of the men in wheelchairs grabbed ukuleles to join in and everyone was singing. I asked permission to take photos, which was enthusiastically granted, and when it was time to head over to the fairgrounds there were plenty hugs and tears to go around.

The group leader took me aside before they left for the fair. I thought something was wrong because he had tears in his eyes, but he wanted to tell me how touched everyone was because, even in this day, there is still a stigma connected with Hansen’s Disease (aka leprosy), and physical contact, let alone hugs, is a rarity. Such a simple thing, and yet that forged a bond that continues to this day.

It’s so easy to become overwhelmed with the problems of the world, but if we focus on one person at a time … a simple hug, a heartfelt and warm embrace, can change the lives of others. Try it, it works.

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46 Responses
  1. August 21, 2013

    Please let me know if you’re looking for a article author for your blog. You have some really good posts and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some material for your blog in exchange for
    a link back to mine. Please send me an e-mail if interested.
    Many thanks!
    kate dircksen recently posted..kate dircksenMy Profile

  2. February 16, 2013

    Hi Marty,

    I’m a hugger too and my whole family loves to hug! There is nothing more comforting and loving than to receive a hug especially if you’re having a difficult day. Thanks for sharing how hugging can really improve your mental state and wellbeing.
    Shelley Alexander recently posted..Healing Foods That Help Prevent and Fight CancerMy Profile

  3. February 15, 2013

    Marty, How special! There is nothing like a big bear hug from someone to boost your spirits. I did not grow up with very much affection, but I am not opposed to hugging. My hubby and I hug everyday and there is nothing more special and soothing than a hug from your grandchildren!
    After reading your article, I will try and be sensitive to those who need a hug!
    Also, that was soooo sweet how you handled the leper colony.
    Blessing to you!
    Lynn Jones recently posted..Love Is An Active VerbMy Profile

    • February 17, 2013

      Hey Lynn, I’m so glad you enjoyed the article, and really appreciate that you’ve taken time to share your thoughts. :-)

  4. February 14, 2013

    Hey Marquita,
    Loved the share.
    Hug is how we handshake from heart and it is a universal medicine. Hug is an effective stress buster and makes one feel lighter . Many a times when in grief a hug works many folds better than words . It makes us feel the comfort that we are not alone .

  5. February 14, 2013

    Hugs are therapeutic. I know when I’m down in the dumps a hug would help out a lot. It won’t solve my problem but it will calm me down. Yes, hugs can save the world!

  6. February 13, 2013

    It could be, but then again all the germ-conscious people out there might start an uprising. Then Dr. Sheldon Cooper shall be their king.

  7. Kelly permalink
    February 13, 2013

    You know I’ve read somewhere that hugs triggers the release of happy hormones. I’m a hugger too. And I think if people would be gentler and more understanding, hugs could really make a difference in the world.

  8. February 11, 2013

    Indeed a hug can do wonders to pacify and to give the encouragement, warmth that we need when we’re upset.

  9. February 11, 2013

    Hi Marty,
    thank you for sharing this inspiring post.
    It is so good to know that hugging lowers cortisol!

    Your story of the event you organized in Maui touched my heart.
    What a gift you gave those people!

    Even though I grew up with very little affection I made a point of hugging my children.
    My oldest son (now 29) is a ‘hugger’ and I enjoy his hug. With the 23 and the 25 year old I have to ask for it and it feels good having that connection.

    I appreciate all the information you are providing!

    Love and Light
    sending you a virtual hug ((((((((Marty))))))))
    Yorinda recently posted..Making Changes and the Limbic LagMy Profile

  10. February 11, 2013

    Hey Marquita,
    What an inspiring post this is!!!! Your posts are so true and written with an honest heart. I am a great hugger. For me, hugs are the remedies to one’s pain. If one is in stress or difficulty, a simple hug from a friend or a family member can provide the much required relief. If in joy, hug becomes an expression of cheerfulness. Thanks for sharing these beautiful words. Loved this post!!
    Aayna recently posted..Using the Windows 8 Control Panel and PC SettingsMy Profile

  11. February 10, 2013

    Hey Marty,

    I was just wondering if you have ever met anyone who simply didn’t like hugs?
    How would you handle the person who doesn’t like to be touched? Surely they exist.

    I know because for a long time I was one of them. A painful memory of a childhood past incident caused me to create a lot of walls and barriers. I used to keep a 3 foot personal space bubble around me and anyone that entered that space without being invited was often met with a bit of violence.

    Today, I am glad to report that I am a different person and I am over those issues and fears. Your article did raise the question and I was curious how you would handle that?

    Jacqueline Waters recently posted..Marketing And Ethics Issues- Sometimes The Truth Is PainfulMy Profile

    • February 11, 2013

      Hi Jacqueline, good question. I have met people who prefer not to be touched, but personally I have found it pretty easy to pick up on that, and then the way you handle it is to simply respect their space. Even if one were to miss the signals and reach out to hug someone like this, and they didn’t come right out and say something, you’d have to be pretty insensitive not to pick up on the body language. Glad to hear you’ve been able to resolve your past issues, and thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation!

  12. February 10, 2013

    I love hugging and receiving hugs…and it is a pacifier, a deal maker, a connection and a transfer of energy and when one rubs a back of the person being hugged you are supporting their back bone, and reminding them they are strong, loved and supported and activating the heart with your compassion and love…my best hug story, if I may was in London outside a very swanky restaurant…and a homeless man came up to me, the restaurant security tried to get him to move on and I said it was OK I was fine.

    Me and the homeless man spoke and I said I had to go in and if I could help him – suspecting he may ask for money which is cool and he said it’s been so long since someone hugged me, will you hug me – and of course I did…and do if asked as hugs are free after all … what a lovely post!
    Sarupa Shah recently posted..Why emotions will strangle your business…My Profile

  13. February 10, 2013

    Hi Marty!

    What great examples you have given here about hugs and touch! Hugging does have an effect on not only our emotions, but our physical body.

    I don’t over-hug, but when I meet someone I know, a hug is automatic. My husband is more of a hugger than I. Poor thing, I have to keep my mind on that and this has pushed me into being more aware of it. He needs more hugs than I do.

    But of course, having three needy dogs, hugging them is something I do all day.

    Donna Merrill recently posted..What’s Your Why?My Profile

  14. February 10, 2013

    I’m a hugger too :), and I also heard that stroking your children’s arms as you hugged them made them feel safe and secure, so I’m a stroker too!

    I love the comments here, it’s nice to see I’m in such good company :)

  15. February 9, 2013

    Very inspiring post, Marquita. Hugs may not be solutions to all the problems in the wold, but this simple gesture gives a sense of hope to anyone who might want to break down and give up.
    Sarah Park recently posted..How to Open a Laundry BusinessMy Profile

  16. February 9, 2013

    Marquita, you done it again… wow, what an article….

    Yes, I am a hugger as well.. mind you I was not for many, many years but once, after a workshop that I attended, hugging become common with man and women… and it was not long that at every functions I was attending, I have become popular and many people asked if they could have a hug (probably I was doing the right thing, but in my way, I was just doing what felt good and some how I knew, they felt that goodness or caring gesture)… enough about my SMALL EGO…

    I like to congratulate you for what you done with the special group of Molokai residents…. WOW!!! that was something that not many people would even think about… you are a special person and hope you are been rewarded along your pathway of life as you should.
    Nick Catricala recently posted..In Life ___ What Did You Do?My Profile

  17. February 9, 2013

    WHat is so interesting about this article is that I was having a conversation about touch with my husband just yesterday. I told him that hand holding, caresses, and mostly HUGS are a good way to defeat negative thinking. I told him that human being cannot thrive without touch. It’s the truth!! How awesome that you wrote this and that I found it today. This is conformation for me…and thank you for it!! I’m sharing on Facebook! I love this article…and oh…I am a hugger!!
    Christi Johnson recently posted..Avoiding Divorce – Is That Even Possible For People In A Challenging Marriage?My Profile

    • February 9, 2013

      Welcome Christi, I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. There’s actually quite a lot of research on the benefits of hugging, I just tried to make the point, so I’m really glad you found it useful and timely. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts :-)

  18. February 8, 2013

    Love love love your post and love hugs Your post calls for me to get out my little book of hugs. i know am a good should I say great hugger and know that the power of hugging. Hugs make us feel alive and loved no hugs can have us dying Thanks for an inspiring post xxoo
    Suzie Cheel recently posted..Love Yourself First: 21 Day Love ChallengeMy Profile

    • February 9, 2013

      Hey Suzie, now I must admit I would have assumed you’d be a hugger by just how friendly and outgoing you are! So glad you enjoyed the post, always happy to see you here :-)

  19. February 8, 2013

    What a loving post Marty! I, too, love giving friends and family a big bear hug and holding them tight just for a minute. It reminds them how much I care about them. Hugs are like boomerangs–they come right back. They are warm, comforting and many times better than words.

    Research shows that our skin is teeming with nerve fibers which spring into action when we are gently touched. Hugs make me feel reassured when I am stressed or worried. Oh yes, I think children love to be comforted by hugs after taking a fall. Hugs seem to just come naturally.
    Rachel Lavern recently posted..Get Rid of Your CowMy Profile

    • February 9, 2013

      Welcome back Rachel, and thank you for taking the time to contribute to the conversation – always appreciated!

  20. February 8, 2013

    Wow I haven’t heard of those people except for the free hugs thing before, the woman hugging the soldiers is awesome! What a great gesture.

    I do like hugs from the right people, but i’m not really such a touchy feely kind of guy.

    Ben recently posted..Make a daily practice of prioritizing your goalsMy Profile

    • February 9, 2013

      Hi Ben, so glad you enjoyed the article and I agree with you about how terrific it is that Elizabeth is so devoted to welcoming our soldiers back home. As far as you not being a “touchy feely kind of guy” if it’s any comfort you are not alone. Statistically American couples aren’t that touchy feely as a whole – in fact according to one study I read, French couples touch more than 4 times as much as American couples. Hum, wonder if it’s too late to migrate? Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts :-)

  21. February 8, 2013

    Absolutely loved this post! I also loved your synergy, because I posted this photo quote on my Facebook page today: Sometimes it’s better to put love into hugs than to put it into words.

    ~Author Unknown
    Gladys Diaz recently posted..Love Yourself FirstMy Profile

    • February 9, 2013

      Welcome Gladys, and thank you for letting me know you enjoyed the article!

  22. February 8, 2013

    Marty, you’ve actually got me crying too, with your story about your special guests, that was a wonderful thing you did for those people. I’m sure they felt really good about themselves after their visit with you. Beautiful post, thanks so much. For a long time, I really wasn’t a “hugging” sort of person, and I used to freeze up if a stranger or even a distant friend or work associate hugged me. I’m not sure why I was like that now, maybe because my parents didn’t hug much.
    Julieanne vanZyl recently posted..Video Tutorial showing how to configure social media pluginsMy Profile

    • February 9, 2013

      Hi Julieanne, thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. I think to some degree we all have our on inborn personal boundaries, but it sounds like you’ve become more comfortable with hugging over the years. My family were not huggers – actually, my family were not touchers at all. My sister and I used to joke about it by shaking hands whenever we’d see each other because kissing was just n-o-t done. Glad to say, Sis and I chose not to follow the family tradition :-)

  23. Steve Borgman
    February 8, 2013

    Marquita, thank you for sharing the story of the hugs shared with that special group of people. What a difference those hugs made in their lives! I’m a hugger, too — guilty as charged! Ironically, my my kids and wife seem to ‘tolerate’ it, but I give them hugs anyway :)

    • February 9, 2013

      Hey Steve, I would have guessed you to be a hugger from some of the great family photos you’ve shared. I’m guessing your family enjoys your hugs more than they let on :-)

  24. February 8, 2013

    I am SO a hugger!! Love the idea of the free hugs campaign.
    Kimba recently posted..What Fifteen Thousand College Students Are Still Teaching Me About Love (Happy Valentine’s Day)My Profile

  25. February 8, 2013

    Dear Marty,
    Sending you a tight hug too – all the way from India! :)
    I love reading all your posts, but could not help myself from writing in reply to you too.

    Your article made me realize about something I used to do to, unconsciously all this while.
    I remember how good and better I had felt every time, when as a kid, my Dad would hug us especially tightly before our exams :)
    And now I do the same for my Dad – and see his face become gentler everytime we meet and I have to be the first to hug him too before his Grand daughter hugs him first!

    My husband also now knows by now what to do when he sees me off colour or down.

    Yes, a hug a day certainly gives more hope and strength to carry on through the day…
    And its better to sometimes let the other person know that we are about to hug them too (in case of strangers or sometimes our own too)

    I often hug trees too and can feel the good, positive oxygen and energy coming in as well. though I make sure that I’m not disturbing it during evening or night time.

    Just loved this article a lot. Could I please share it on my blogspot please?
    Thanks ton and with lots of hugs and best wishes

    madhavi sood alias madhavi mohandas
    (Author of ‘From the Silence Within’) available in paperback cover form via Amazon.

    • February 8, 2013

      Welcome Madhavi – all the way from India! What an honor to have you take the time to share such a lovely story! You have a lovely blog, and I would be happy for you to share the article with your readers. Thank you for asking, and I hope you will visit often :-)

      • February 9, 2013

        Dear Marty,
        Thanks for replying back to me.
        Felt good and pleasantly surprised too! :)
        I’m not such a techie blogger and was wondering how to share this wonderful posts and so many lovely responses too on my blogspot ?
        I think I must navigate and learn wordpress too, your beautiful posts are almost like reading a book with immediate responses from other readers that makes this journey very worth while.

        Thanks and reciprocate your best wishes and hugs too for liking my blog.
        I wish I could figure out how to share this one post please?

        With Best Wishes and lots of hugs from India
        madhavi sood alias madhavi mohandas
        madhavi sood recently posted..Spare a thought in deed.My Profile

        • February 9, 2013

          Hi Madhavi, I think the easiest way for you to share the post will be to provide a link to it. The URL (address) is at the top of the page, but for your convenience I’ll provide it for you here:

          If you can add a hyperlink that will be best because then all you have to do is click on it and go to the page, but even if you don’t have the hyperlink this way your readers can copy and paste into into their browser and visit the page.

          Hope this helps :-)

  26. February 8, 2013

    I love this post! It makes me very excited because I’ve always thought affection and touch are so important in healing ourselves and others. A little love goes a long way!
    Thanks for writing this!
    Erin recently posted..L is for LoveMy Profile

  27. February 7, 2013

    I’m a hugger too, and it’s rubbed off on my daughter. Often when I’m hugging my wife my daughter will see us and run over to get in on the action.

    While we are all huggers in my family I do want to bring something up. The person being hugged needs to be open to it. I’ve had some family members that tried to force hugs on my daughter and it did not go well. You can’t force a hug and you need permission before giving a hug.

    When everyone is on the same page with hugging it’s a wonderful thing.
    Eric West recently posted..The Basis of Friendship as Described by Aristotle by Eric WestMy Profile

    • February 7, 2013

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation Eric – and great point. As a matter of fact, I ended up substituting my little story at the last minute. The story I had planned to use was about a “hugger judge” who’d been featured in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books – so I’m thinking that should be safe, right? Good thing I’m a researcher, because after a little digging I learned the poor guy recently got canned from his job. He got so carried away with his hugging that some of the staff in the courthouse took to hiding from him. Nothing weird fortunately – just obsessive. So again, thanks for that important reminder :-)

  28. February 7, 2013

    MARTY MARTY I would have guessed you as a HUGGER! What a Great Post! Of course I am to but I have a Girl Friend who is THE WORLDS BEST HUGGER!! Man when she gets a hold of you Watch out You had better not be frail, SHE HUGS!!! I am going to shoot this to her. Thanks for sharing Keep up the Great Work! Chery :)
    Chery Schmidt recently posted..What Are The Right Choices We As Online Entrepreneurs Should Make?My Profile

    • February 7, 2013

      So glad you enjoyed the article Chery – I also have a good friend who’s a super hugger – in fact her nickname is “Hugsy” and I swear, there are days I seek her out just for one of her hugs – nothing like it :-)

  29. February 7, 2013

    Hugging and hand holding reduces the effects of stress. This information is very interesting and I like reading it. Thank you for sharing.
    Heru Prasetyono recently posted..Ultimate Juicing Recipes & TipsMy Profile

    • February 7, 2013

      Glad you liked the article Heru, and thank you for taking the time to contribute to the conversation.

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