Wikipedia defines “hug” as “a near universal form of physical intimacy in which two people put their arms around the neck, back, or waist of one another and hold each other closely. If more than two persons are involved, this is informally referred to as a group hug.”
Virtually every language on the planet has a word for hug, most have more than one: embrace, squeeze, cuddle, snuggle, jhappi, pyaar karna, pass rakhna, cwtch, aalingan, abbracciami, abraço, abrazo, étreindre, 抱き締める(dakishimeru), klemmer, knuddel, hibukim, gale lagnaa, αγκάλες, yakap, Обнимаю, hodn, objeti and a whole lot more.
Hugging has been proven to have real and positive health benefits. One study has shown that hugs increase levels of oxytocin and reduce blood pressure. A group hug has been found to be a useful tool in group therapy to cement a sense of unity and cohesion among the participants after a session.
One reason that hugging helps is that we’re hardwired to respond to touch. Each fingertip contains more than 3,000 touch receptors. When someone gives us a hug, reactions spread through the central nervous system and stimulate hormones that give us the feeling of safety and security. The brain’s stress detectors relax and our immune systems are stimulated. Studies show that a warm touch encourages premature infants to grow and gain weight and offer big benefits to older patients who suffer from depression or Alzheimer’s syndrome.
History of the hug
Many scholars believe that hugs (and handshakes) had roots in battle. A hug or handshake was one way to show your enemy that you weren’t armed and that they were safe.
Unlike some other types of physical contact, a hug can be practiced publicly and privately without stigma in many countries, religions and cultures, within families, and also across age and gender lines, but is generally an indication of familiarity or common experience. An unexpected hug can sometimes be regarded as an invasion of a person’s personal space, but if reciprocated, it’s a sign that it’s welcomed. Some Western cultures shy away from hugging because it may be considered a violation of a person’s personal space, but if it is reciprocated it is an indication that it is welcome. You could even interpret some dancing as a “moving hug”.
Hugging customs continue to change. Recently, “bro hugs” are becoming more common among young males. There are many reasons to hug, and many hugging techniques.
So go ahead and hug, with care, most especially if you know the person well. The benefits are great, and in some cases, this important touch is the only real human contact people will have in a given day. Hugging is a great way to show affection, devotion, intimacy, trust, safety, or just as a casual greeting. Of course, respect personal space, and know that different cultures view hugs in different ways.