“Four hugs a day, that’s the minimum. Four hugs a day, not the maximum.”

— “Four Hugs a Day,” a song by Charlotte Diamond

Our toddlers used to come home from preschool singing the praises of human connection. Their adorable ditty mandating hugs got our family practicing the art of the hug.

Family therapist Virginia Satir explained: “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

Admittedly, I am an awkward hugger. I’m tall so people tend to hug my neck. I’m slightly angular so my hugs aren’t the softest. And I often hang a pair of sunglasses around the top of my shirt so that aviators press painfully against whoever happens to come in for an embrace.

That said, I know how it feels to be the recipient of a good hug.

Our kids’ first-grade teacher, Jenifer Wilbur, should be honored in the Huggers Hall of Fame, should one exist. She gives just the right amount of squeeze — not too much, not too little. Her warm hugs wrap you in a blanket of kindness, compassion and love. She also smells like fresh gingerbread cookies. I may have made the last part up, but truly she could give lectures on the stress-buffering social support that all hugs offer.

When it comes to children, local pediatrician Dr. Iordanka Valkova-Abbas says touch is especially important.

“I absolutely believe in it,” she said. “When children feel that warmth from each other, parents, teachers or grandparents, in that second, they feel security, peace and reassurance.”

From the moment we’re born, touch is necessary for healthy development. It’s what creates the intimate bond between babies and their mothers or fathers.

Michelangelo said, “To touch is to give life,” and ample scientific research backs that up. Human touch directly correlates with greater trust, stronger immune systems and overall well-being.

A squeeze of the hand, a touch on the shoulder or a firm hug can release endorphins, which soothes aches and pains; serotonin, which fights depression; and oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone. Sometimes, just one hug can communicate understanding, empathy and sorrow when tears fall and words fail.

I believe that God put us on this earth not to live solitary lives, but to have fellowship with each other and lift each other up.

So start off the new year by hugging someone you care about, lightly patting the back of someone you’re friendly with and squeezing the life out of your loved ones. You really can’t underestimate the power of the hug. 

Nina Ha hugs her maternal grandfather who passed away four years ago. The views expressed are her own.

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