Most people don’t know this about me, but I’m a hugger. If we become friends, the first couple of times I give a courtesy warning, “I’m a hugger, so are you ok if I hug you?”
I’m not talking about those side hugs, or what in my youth was called a church hug where you just kind of acknowledge, “Yeah, we’re sorta friends.”
I’m talking about those “Hi grandma, I haven’t seen you in 3 years” kind of hugs. I’m talking about those “Hey kid, you did a great job in the spelling bee, even if you didn’t win” kind of hugs. I’m talking about those “You mean something to me” kind of hugs.
Every once in a while, someone is uncomfortable with physical contact, and they’ll opt for a fist bump instead. That’s fine.
But, I taught a college class last fall that I teach each year. This year, it had 17 students, small because of the nature of the class. On the night of the final exam, I said, “I may never see you again. So, you should know I’m a hugger. If you are too, and you want to give me a hug, come see me before you leave. If you prefer a fist bump, we can do that too.”
I got 15 hugs, 1 fist bump, and 1 handshake. A number of the hugs surprised me.
I often say to people, “Hug like it’s your last.”
Let that sink in. “Hug like it’s your last.”
If these are your last words, last smiles, last moments, and last memories, hug like it’s your last. The same should be said of your words, smiles and opportunities to make memories.
I have friends and former colleagues who, when I see them after big times of separation, greet me with a hug. That first hug communicates so much. (I’m talking to you CeeJay, Corbett, Olivia and Lauren.) As much as words matter, words are sometimes altogether inadequate.
But, here are some of the reasons why I’m a hugger.
1. It is beneficial to others.
A blog on Naturally Savvy explains it best. “Why is touch so important to us? Touch plays an integral role in our daily experiences. It influences what we buy, what we eat, who we love, and even how we heal. We use our sense of touch to gather information about our environment and to establish social bonds with each other.”
“Hugs, the researchers found, were associated with an uptick in positive mood markers and a reduction in negative ones; the opposite was true of relationship conflict. On days when both occurred, people tended to report fewer negative feelings and more positive ones than on days when they experienced conflict but no hugs.”
“That trend was true regardless of gender, age, race, marital status, overall number of social interactions and average mood. It even carried over into the next day.”
The Naturally Savvy article goes into more detail about the specific ways that hugging is physically, emotionally and psychologically beneficial.
2. It is beneficial to me.
70% of communication is nonverbal. It is important to realize that people who don’t like you, won’t want to hug you. (And, it isn’t advisable to try.)
People who are unhappy with you will find it harder to hug you. If someone is normally receptive, and suddenly you’re discerning signals that are out of alignment, it can be a helpful sign that you need to work through some unresolved conflict.
3. I always want my last contact with friends or family to be one of sincere warmth.
But, this is the most important reason I’m a hugger.
My last contact with our puppy was a hug. She was in pain, and nothing I could say would take away that pain.
I’ve had friends who were dealing with an injury or death of a family member. In those moments, words like “I know how you feel” and “She’s in a better place” always seem to ring hollow.
But a hug? Nothing is more deeply felt.
I can’t count the times someone has simply clung within that hug, shedding tears on my shoulder, realizing simply that I care.
If you watch people who grieve at a funeral, how often do you see them reach out, grab the deceased loved one’s hand, straighten their garments or caress their cheek. Those who grieve long for that one last touch. What they wouldn’t give for a hug.
So, today, despite whatever words or separation may exist between you and that person who matters to you, give them a hug.
But, don’t just hug. Hug like it’s your last.