Could Hugs be the Answer to the World’s Problems?
Happiness is an unexpected hug. ~Author Unknown
Are 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 Lady
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
In 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 Campaign
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
A 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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