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National Hugging Day 2023: Benefits of cuddling and hugging

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Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
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Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
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  • Hugging is important because it releases the love hormone oxytocin, associated with happiness, closeness and connection
  • National hugging day helps us celebrate sharing hugs with loved ones
  • At Blueheart we use small touches and embraces like hugs as part of our Sensate Focus therapy to help you build intimacy without relationship stress or pressure

What is National Hug Day?

National hugging day is a celebration of the hug, and the transformative power of a small but heartfelt embrace as a way to show you care. For the hugger, this natural display of affection is an empowering non-verbal gesture that indicates a willingness to create a connection with the huggee, who in turn feels tenderness and warmth from the act of being hugged. 

When is National Hug Day

National Hug Day falls every year on January 21st and as the name of the happy hugging day suggests, has a heartwarming history. Originally celebrated in 1986, creator Kevin Zaborney felt a national hugging day was needed to keep American spirits high after noticing a slump in community mood between the end of the December holidays and new year birthdays. 

Although Zaborney had no data behind the idea, given that Psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall declared Blue Monday (annual third Monday in January) the most miserable day of the year in 2005, he was certainly on to something! 

Why is National Hug Day important?

As humans, touch is essential for our health and survival. Hugs are one of the first forms of affectionate contact we experience, usually from our primary caregivers to indicate love and protection. As we grow, hugs continue to hold the social significance of safety and security when we express or experience them in later life. 

When you think back to your last hug, it’s likely you naturally draw correlations between the physical warmth you received when hugged and the perceived social warmth from the person who hugged you. It may even be that some of your most cherished social connections started off with a hearty hug that made you feel uplifted. 

National Hug Day is an important reminder to celebrate the power of a hug as it encourages you to show appreciation of your loved ones by cuddling them. 

The science of hugs

When we hug, we get a boost of joy thanks to the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is often referred to as the love hormone and is responsible for helping us to feel calm by decreasing cortisol (stress) levels. As well as hugs and kisses oxytocin is also released during sex and other intimate skin-to-skin moments such as massages. 

So if you’re looking for a way to ‘hack’ your inner happiness and give yourself and your partner a mental boost this National Hugging Day, be sure to hug it out as often as possible. 

In fact, as part of our science-backed couples intimacy approach we actively encourage small bursts of physical connection such as hugs at Blueheart as part of our Sensate Focus therapy. Hugs and other tiny touches can be used as an aid to growing intimacy in a non-stressful way for healthier relationships, taking sexual intercourse out of the equation to begin with. 

Learn more about How to use Blueheart to help you and your partner grow closer and find out why thousands of couples have trusted us with creating a more connected, intimate relationship. Don’t just take our word for it, read the Blueheart app reviews from real users! 

Health benefits of a hug

  1. Mindfulness and gratitude 

While you can’t hug your way to health, you can certainly help your mental wellbeing by hugging it out with your loved ones as often as is comfortable. Hugging is also an excellent practice for mindfulness thanks to its nature, which draws you into the warmth of the present moment as you receive the hug and naturally practice gratitude while being part of a close embrace. 

  1. Neurological and physiological hug benefits

The impact of focusing on meaningful connection with your partner and prioritizing closeness is often underestimated. Some consider it a luxury for the time-rich. Others see affection as a young couple’s game. And many are simply hug-avoidant due to their upbringing. But the reality is, even something as simple as a hug with your partner has multiple neurological and physical benefits. These include: 

  1. Helping retrain our reward systems 

It’s no secret that “touch has a huge impact on our psychological and physical wellbeing.” as evolutionary psychologist and University of Oxford Professor Robin Dunbar explains to The Guardian.  

But what may surprise you is that you can actually use hugs to help you realize how much happiness you actually deserve. Talking to Time, Darcia Narvaez, a professor of psychology at University of Notre Dame shares that “Not experiencing physical affection while growing up can lead to an underdeveloped oxytocin system.”

If you grew up with little affection, practicing hugging as part of a wider self-love routine can help you recognise the amount of love you deserve and want to share, especially in a romantic relationship. You may even discover that physical touch is one of your preferred love languages. If you don’t know yours is already, find out how you like to be loved in our Love Languages - Do You Know Yours? article.  

How many hugs do we need a day? 

In short: we want many, we ideally need a minimum of four. The reality of how many hugs you can receive and give in a day will vary depending on your environment and free time, but in an ideal world you should have a minimum of twelve hugs a day according to Psychotherapist Virginia Satir. Satir once shared, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” 

Of course we all need personal space, but in order to benefit from the calming boost of a quick hug, the more we embrace others the less stressed and more connected we’ll feel with ourselves and those we cuddle. 

In fact, even a short self-hug has been proven to help relieve physical pain and improve self-compassion. Learn more about How to Reconnect with Your Body.  

The importance of a hug

Like many of us, you’ve likely hugged friends, family, and romantic partners as a way to express love throughout your lifetime. But for other people, hugging isn’t just for their trusted circle — it’s also for showing sincerity to strangers. 

David Sylvester is one such dedicated citizen who began hugging grieving people in the wake of 9/11 during a national bike tour, to honor his deceased childhood friend who lost his life in the World Trade Center. Since then, David has made embracing other people his life's work and carries a clicker on his person to keep a tally of the number of Americans he’s hugged. 

He revealed last year in The Guardian his total now sits at “half a million, across 50 states and 42 countries, with lots of high fives on top.” By his own admission, David’s hugs-in-a-day record is “1,300 in a day, at a retail convention in Las Vegas.”

For others, hugging is actually their profession. Companies such as Cuddle Party and Cuddlist provide cuddle therapy by way of paid-for-hugs or a safe space to explore the affectionate boundaries with others. In 2020 Madelon Guinazzo, Director of Training for Cuddlist, told Eat This, Not That! Health that the company currently has professional huggers “in over 40 states and five countries”

Read next: 

How to Foreplay With Your Partner 

How Stress Affects Your Sex Life 

Couples' Sensate Focus Ground Rules 

How to Improve Your Body Image and Reclaim Pleasure

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