Why we hug

May 12, 2021 · Print This Article

Have you ever asked why we hug? It’s one of those human activities that seem so natural, so innate, so needed. In lockdown, hugs went into hibernation – one of the hugs I got was a paper one – a very nice card sent by a friend. But yesterday I heard some good news, real hugs are back!

As of next Monday, hugs with loved ones are back on the menu in England. And we’re all talking about it – it’s reminded us that hugging is a very human act. But why is this so?

You will find many articles exploring different types of hug and what they mean. At some time, we’ve all experienced these varied hugs. You’ve got the ‘London Bridge’, a lean-in hug with that someone you know but are not fully comfortable with. Then the more friendly arms-under-the armpit hug. For lovers, there’s the neck embrace hug. And for alpha males, there’s the diagonal arms hug – one over the shoulder, the other under the arm – finished off with a double back slap. All these communicate a level of connection and comfort. But there’s more to hugs than meets the eye.

The impact of hugs and other touchy-feely aspects of human connectedness can even help in unseen ways. A gentle touch from a waiter means you are more likely to give them a higher tip; basketball players who hug and high-five are more likely to perform better on the court; and some studies suggest patients who receive a reassuring touch on their shoulder tend to have better medical outcomes.1 And there’s an even bigger reason why cuddles make a different.

Receiving a hug releases that well-known, feel-good, hormone oxytocin. It’s responsible for giving us that warm feeling inside. Hugging even has the surprising capacity to reduce our stress levels and boost our immune system. Who would have thought hugs were so powerful? But not only that, hugs actually help babies grow physically and develop emotionally – touch deprivation on the other hand can stunt growth and lead to behavioural problems later in life. But are these the reasons why we hug?

Hugs seemed so natural, so automatic, you wonder whether they tell us something about human nature itself. No doubt, they indicate that we are social creatures. But, more than that, they confirm that at our core humans are relational – we are built for relationship. Connection is at the heart of who we are as a species. I don’t believe this comes from an evolutionary vacuum with no rhyme or reason. It’s as if we are designed to reflect relationship. But where does that come from?

As a Christian, I believe I know the answer. It comes from God. God, who is relational, created humanity to be in relationship. And at the heart of relationships is a little thing called love. Love comes from God because God is love and we learned about love from him because he loved us first. 2

Later, he showed us just how much he loved us by sending his one and only son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 3

I believe our human hugging habits are motivated by love and are a reflection of the relational roots we came from and the loving God who made us.

Enjoy hugging again. And enjoy thinking about the power of the hug and where, or rather who, it came from.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is Editorial Assistant at Because

1 What Is the Power of a Hug? | Fun Science – YouTube
2 The Bible – 1 John 4:19
3 The Bible – 1 John 4:9
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