It’s been said we need four hugs a day for survival. Eight hugs a day for maintenance and twelve hugs a day for growth.[1]

Most of us can relate to the feeling of just needing a hug when we’re not at our best or it’s the end of a long day. When words often fail only a hug will do. So what is it about hugging that make us feel so good and connected to each other?

In a basic sense, when we hug we touch and physically share our space with another person. We open up and for a moment are vulnerable, which is usually met by the reassuring touch of someone we care for.


Touch is a central experience of being human. We often think of stress as a reaction to things that happen to us. Though there is evidence to suggest that stress can also be as a result of the absence of something essential, and the absence of touch from another is one of the biggest stressors we can suffer[2].

Hugs are self-selecting, you tend to only hug someone you like or love and as such they are a genuine expression of affection and care.

Caring is sharing and by doing so through a hug you share and transfer positive energy to someone else. The beauty of a hug is you can’t give one without getting one back and all the health benefits you give you also receive.

Do you know how to be happy and healthy? Try hugs.

It’s all in the brain

One reason hugs feel good and support your health is because they aid the release of a chemical called ‘oxytocin’.  Made in the brain, oxytocin helps us to bond with each other. It’s a key regulator of emotion and is crucial to our survival from childhood to adult.[3]

Oxytocin helps us to form attachments with each other, its one reason mothers bond with their babies, you’re attracted to your other half, you like and love your friends and family. All of which benefit your overall wellbeing, helping you to feel happy, healthy, connected and content.

This isn’t just airy fairy sentimental stuff either. There’s evidence to suggest hugging and interaction involving touch, not only promotes social bonding and connection but has physical health benefits too, by reducing inflammation in the body and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.[4]

Inflammation is a key cause of chronic disease. The parasympathetic nervous system helps us to ‘rest and digest’ as opposed to the ‘fight or flight’ response of the sympathetic nervous system, the over-activity of which can lead to weight gain, stress related illnesses, chronic fatigue and insomnia.

how to be happy and healthy_2

The 12-a-day challenge

The positive effects of hugs do not last long and it’s vital to get regular doses throughout the day to maintain a happy healthy baseline.

The sweet spot of 12 hugs a day, averages at a hug every two hours. When hugging, it takes at least six seconds to feel the positive effects though 20 seconds may be optimal.

If you’re up for the 12-a-day challenge, read on for tips on giving the perfect hug.

How to give and receive a really great hug [5];

A great hug is a two person affair, so before launching into it, use your best judgment to first decide if the other person wants to be hugged! If not find someone else or be content with hugging yourself.

1. Be sincere: There’s no point in giving a hug you don’t want to. Nothing is as poor as being on the receiving end of a half-hearted hug.

2. Go wide: open up your arms, expose your heart centre and welcome the other person into your space.

3. Hold tight: don’t break any ribs but really embrace the other person with a gentle squeeze for at least six seconds.

4. Release: let go, even great hugs must come to an end. However if you do it right you’ll always be called on to give more!


How to be healthy and happy

Hugs, contact and touch are known to have a positive effect on mind, body and emotions.

Chemically, hugs release feel good hormones which help to regulate our nervous systems. Emotionally, hugs uplift, energise and connect us to the people we care about as well as facilitate all the same benefits in them.

Rationale aside, hugs just feel good to give and receive so why wait? What better reason than that to get your 12-a-day in.

[1] Virgina Satir, Author and social worker.

[2] Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping – Now Revised and Updated by Sapolsky, Robert M.

[3] Brain oxytocin: a key regulator of emotional and social behaviours in both females and males

[4] Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth and healing

[5] How to Give a Great HugBryan Reeves,, June 29, 2014

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