Allocated on January 21st because the creator believed it was when people’s spirits were low, falling right between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, National Hugging Day has come around to tell you to hug your nearest and dearest and appreciate the joy of hugs.
It goes without saying that hugs are like food for the soul. In a world becoming increasingly divided by broadening differences in belief and experience, the hug is the common denominator that bridges the gap between friends, lovers, family – the hug is one of the most powerful acts of solidarity, support and compassion, and one of the oldest. The hug, one of the simplest forms of nonverbal communication, is one that can best express your devotion. Yet we often forget the power of such a simple action to transform the mood, wellbeing, or state of a person or how we relate to them.
The humble hug does not only unite humans, transcending barriers of difference, but it provides a plethora of health benefits, too. A 2005 study of 38 couples documented that when the couples hugged, their levels of oxytocin – called the “love hormone” because its release triggers increased trust, sense of safety and attachment – increased significantly and lowered blood pressure.
Hugs don’t just release oxytocin: hugs also trigger release of serotonin, “the happy hormone”, which boosts mood and self-esteem, and eliminates feelings of loneliness and unhappiness; endorphins, which relieve pain and soothe aches by increasing circulation to soft tissues; dopamine, which combats mental disorders linked with insufficient dopamine levels such as depression. What’s more, hugs reduce levels of cortisol, “the stress hormone”, in the bloodstream, reducing feelings of stress and calming the mind. Consequently, this also improves the immune system, because cortisol inhibits the immune system’s ability to function at its optimum.
With all these positive effects on our mind, body and soul, the hug deserves more credit, and National Hug Day is the perfect reason for you to start making the most of the ways hugs can change your life. It’s no wonder that motivational speaker and author Leo Buscaglia (nicknamed “Dr Love”, “the Love Merchant” and the “Hug Doctor”) believed hugs were so crucial in human relationships and interactions, he took the time to hug every audience member individually after his speeches.
Dr Love said we can all benefit from the use of “the power of the hug to be fully present in the moment.” It’s true: hugs offer a moment of respite from the adversities of the world and allow us to focus, however briefly, on what really matters – the people who we love, and who love us. The less time we believe we have to hug, with the world demanding our attention, time, and energy, the more important hugs are. Dr Love recommends hugging for 21 seconds to “get lost in the hug”, a sum of time we can all fit into our day. There’s always time for a hug.
To finish, I leave you with the wise words of Dr Love:
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”