Happy Valentine’s (and “hugging”) Day!

Oh, did that eye-catching caption may have got your attention?Good. 

Okay, I’ll now explain.

You see, when my little buddy “Christian’s” mom walks into my favorite Starbucks coffee shop in the morning with him in tow, the little guy quickly scans the place, locates yours truly and weaves his way through the traffic of adults in line awaiting their coffees and lattes to get to me. He then hops onto my lap and hugs me tightly only to let go when momma calls out, “c’mon Christian, we gotta go.”

And if I’m out of town, or Christian and mom don’t stop by, my day is incomplete. There’s just something special about seeingmy little buddy running towards me, arms outstretched. And for him, and for scores of other kids, I cannot help but wonder what life is like for them without affectionate hugs from those who love them. Not an unfortunate thing to think about.

Now the funny thing is that I long thought that it was the coffee alone that gave me that morning boost, and maybe it does in some way. But I soon put two and two together – coffee and Christian’s hugs – and concluded that I really needed them bothto enrich my day.

But first a hugging primer.

According to the American Dictionary of the English Language, a hug is, “to clasp or hold closely, especially in the arms, as in affection; embrace.” The hug is the most common of human signs of affection. We bond with a hug and find comfort with a hug. We greet and separate from each other with a hug. In many countries people hug publicly without causing offense, and it’s accepted across different religions and cultures, within families and across age and gender lines. In the French culture, kisses on both sides of the cheeks are meant for close friends. In American culture, a quick hug is often given. Similar to the European double-cheek kiss, these hugs are usually reserved for close friends or longtime associates but can happen without permission or request. 

Back now to me and my buddy Christian.

Here’s my question: Are there health-related benefits that derive from hugging? 

The short answer is absolutely. Just think for a second about how you feel after getting hugged. According to research hugging for adults lowers the blood pressure and supports the immune system by stimulating the thymus gland. It lowers heart rate and levels stress, improves sleep and stimulates the brain’s memory center.

On kids like Christian, it leads to emotional health and boosts confidence at an early age and provides a sense of security. It creates smarter kids since a child’s growth needs a lot of sensory stimulation. And get this, hugs can even stop temper tantrumsand make a kid happy. A close cuddle will help release the “happy hormone” or oxytocin, a hormone that promotes the feeling of bonding, trust, comfort, safety.

But wait, not so fast before leaving this piece with outstretched arms. A word of caution and a hugger deterrent strategy.

First, you huggers out there, if you don’t know the child (or anyone for that matter), even if they look huggable, or if you are otherwise in doubt, don’t hug them. It’s that simple.

Second, as an adult what could you do if an unwelcome huggeris heading your way short of running in the opposite direction? The advice here is to put out your hand (your “hug me not” sign) early while taking a step back. Now it’s important to do this because rejecting a hug after the other person has stepped forward with arms outstretched can be embarrassing for both of you. If you extend your hand for a handshake, you avoid the rejection. 

So while you’re doling out Valentine’s Day cards, candy and planning intimate dinners with someone special in your life, make a special effort while sipping your coffee to hug little “Christian,” “Dorothy,” “Maria,” and “Juan” you are familiar with while you’re at it. For your help them and will probably add years to your own life as well.

Happy Valentine’s (and hugging) Day!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Shenandoah Valley Hit, BlackMarket.com, The Echo World, the Appreciate You Magazine, The Valley Trail and co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com

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