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How the 20-Second Hug Makes All the Difference in Your Happiness

You can tell that humans all around the globe value touch in the various ways we greet each other:

  • In Russia, it’s a bear hug

  • In France a kiss on both cheeks

  • In Rome a pinch on the cheek

  • In South America some tribes paint their visitor's body and adorn it with feathers,

  • In Hawaii the tourist is adorned with a garland of flowers around their neck

North Americans, in general, use the handshake, a form of greeting which tells us more than we may realize. For example, the cold, limp, withdrawn hand conveys a feeling of not being welcome, whereas a firm, warm, friendly hand is often interpreted as a sign of a pleasant meeting.

We all have a certain need for touch, to touch and be touched. We may or may not be aware of it. In romantic relationships, touch places a crucial role in developing intimacy in the relationship development.

The Touch Expert

The touch expert appears to be Dr. David Linden, who wrote Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind. He states that there are two touch systems.

  1. The first gives us the facts, meaning “the location, movement, and strength of a touch — and we call that discriminative touch."

  2. The second one is the emotional touch system which has special sensors. “It conveys information more slowly. It's vague — in terms of where the touch is happening — but it sends information to a part of the brain … that is crucial for socially-bonding touch. This includes things like a hug from a friend, to the touch you received as a child from your mother, to sexual touch."

"It's not just a different kind of information that's conveyed by the same sensors in the skin that allow you to feel a quarter in your pocket. It's a completely different set of sensors and nerve fibers that wind up in a different part of your brain."

Touch is a critical part of our relationships.

In social settings, the primary purpose of touch is to create trust and cooperation. A friendly touch communicates, You can trust me. Research shows that sports teams that have lots of celebratory touch tend to perform better.

“In both kids and adults, touch is the glue that makes social bonds,” said Linden.

The 20-Second Hug Makes a Difference

Oxytocin, also called the bonding hormone, is a crucial feel-good hormone in the body. Research indicates that

  1. it “inspires the feeling of meaningful connection with others;”

  2. it is “also linked to reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.” Some refer to it as the “happy hormone.”

If you want some more Oxytocin, hug a bit longer. Yep! Research shows that a quick three second hug does NOT produce Oxytocin, but a 20 second hug sure does. So wanting to feel good, happy, and bonded – ask your partner or your friend to give you a good, long hug.

The emotional context changes our physical experience of touch.

Depending upon the social context, touch can feel physically different. Imagine your friend or partner putting their arm around your shoulders. Now contrast that to someone you don’t like or trust putting their arm around you. I can feel you cringing inside right now!

“It’s not just that the context is different — it will actually feel different,” Linden explained. “The reason is because these emotional touch brain areas are getting information about the social context from other parts of the brain.”

Our sense of touch deteriorates as we get older.

Just like our other senses, your sense of touch steadily deteriorates as you get older, starting around the age of 18. Every year, we lose around one percent of our tactile sense.

Part of the reason that elderly people are so prone to falls is that they are getting less tactile information from the soles of their feet. One of the ways for the elderly to combat falling is actually to go barefoot so that they have a better sense of the ground, Linden explains.

Touch can be therapeutic.

A large body of research — much of which has been conducted by Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami — suggests that therapeutic massage can be useful for a number of physical and mental ailments.

These therapeutic applications include pain relief, addiction recovery, and maintaining emotional equilibrium, cognitive function and mobility among an aging population. Some research has also suggested that massage may be an effective way to treat anxiety, insomnia, headaches and digestive problems.

Well, duh? You already knew that, but glad they proved it.

Now to You

Your challenge this week is to notice how much touch do you give and get. Plus, experiment with different types of touch.

  1. Ask for a longer hug at least three times this week and notice how you feel.

  2. Experiment with your partner and different types of touch. What do you like? Ask for more of that type of touch.

  3. Get a massage and notice what touch feels good and speak up when you don’t like the touch you’re getting.

Let us know how it went!

Join our Women with Mojo Facebook Group Like our thrive Facebook page, or Follow us on Instagram, thriveinc Instagram

Post a picture of you hugging your person, and/or an update about what you learned about you and touch!

Hugs (1, 2, 3,…19, 20)



CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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