Women Hugging DogLast fall, a pair of gloves arrived in the mail from an animal welfare organization. I hadn’t ordered them nor had I made a donation. Even though the gloves looked warm and fuzzy, I doubted I would wear them but I didn’t want to toss them. When the Salvation Army red kettles made their seasonal appearance, I decided that might be a good place to bring the gloves.

There was a red kettle at my local supermarket so I put some money in the kettle and after the kettle bell ringer thanked me, I showed her the gloves, told her they hadn’t been worn and asked if she thought it was okay to donate them. She hesitated, then said, “Sure, I’ll bring them in.” She thanked me again and as I started to walk away, something unexpected happened. “Give me a hug,” she said, opening her arms wide. I moved right in and we hugged.

Driving home I realized how happy I felt…as warm and fuzzy as the gloves I had just given away. The good feelings lasted that night and the next day. Why, I wondered, did a hug – from a total stranger – make me feel so wonderful? It turns out that hugging (just like laughter) is an effective way to heal sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress. Here are just some of the reasons why and the benefits:

    • Hugs can boost oxytocin levels, which can heal feelings of loneliness, anger and sadness.
    • Holding a hug can raise serotonin levels, a mood elevator that creates feelings of happiness.
    • Hugging relaxes muscles and releases tension.
    • A hug strengthens the immune system by stimulating the thymus gland, thereby improving your health (great during the dreaded “cold and flu season”!).
    • Hugging helps increase self-esteem. The association of tactile sensations and self-worth from our early years is embedded into our nervous system as adults.
    • Hugs teach us the equal value of giving and receiving.
    • Hugging encourages empathy, compassion and understanding.
  • Much like meditation, hugs bring you into the present, opening your heart and deepening the connection to your emotions.

This year January 21st is National Hugging Day, which began in 1986. Celebrate by giving – and receiving – a hug!