National Hugging Day: Hug long and prosper

As if we needed ANOTHER holiday.  Well, this one feels much needed and it also feels really good ! (literally).   National Hug Day, also known as National Hugging Day, is a day celebrated on January 21st in the United States. While this holiday is officially protected by copyright law, it isn’t a true National holiday, meaning that government, business or banking institutions are not closed on this day. However, it is a holiday that is being celebrated by an increasing number people and has even spread beyond the borders of the U.S; now being celebrated now by people all over the globe.

Hugs have been around a long time and have evolved.   Take for instance the Man Hug… There’s a moment in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier where James T Kirk, overcome with emotion and relief, tells his closest friend that he thought he was going to die. “Not possible,” says Spock. “You were never alone.” Kirk all but melts and goes to embrace Spock, who stops him. “Please, Captain,” he says. “Not in front of the Klingons.”

Star Trek was always supposed to reflect our own values, and though this one was set in 2287, it was released in 1989, back when men hugging their male friends wasn’t de rigueur.

Today, man hugs are rife. Many of us hug each other as a greeting, as gratitude, as expressions of affection, with some public figures leading the charge. Oval Office friends Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s numerous, warm, on-camera embraces conveyed an unbreakable bond, equally as affecting on happy and sad occasions. Similarly, Princes William and Harry have been at the forefront of male wellbeing with their openness to expressing their feelings.

Dr Julian Boon, a psychologist at the University Of Leicester who lectures on the psychology of love and attraction, has noticed the change. “I recently saw one of my best friends from school after a 25-year absence and we thought nothing of a hug in the street,” he says. “Twenty-five years ago, we’d probably have shook hands. There is evidence that men are now more willing to have physical contact. If you watch an old football match with Bobby Charlton, you’re not going to see him score, run up to another footballer and clasp him around the shoulders. It just would not have happened. What we’ve got is a relaxation of codes, a consequence of social change.”

Our feelings haven’t altered, says Boon, who states that while women are more likely to feel love for their female friends, we as men just like each other, albeit to varying degrees. Our means of communicating our affection has changed, though. “We’re much more enlightened,” he says. “There has been more freedom of expression, meaning that the old buttoned-up ways are no longer as pressurising to people to behave in certain ways.”

The fear men may have, or may have had – that hugging might make them look gay – is, at least in a society that allows for such freedom of expression, archaic. So, since the early Nineties, with culture at large becoming more liberal and the rise of the metrosexual, physical expression between heterosexual men has become more prevalent.

Such intimacy is not, of course, universal. Our own codes are established, albeit organically, over time, and we will feel much more comfortable and willing to hug some friends, family or colleagues over others. If you haven’t hugged someone before and you’re not sure how to play it, it can be clumsy. Some men, most likely keen to keep their hugs on the more overtly masculine, or at least more restrained, side, couple the embrace with an alpha back pat (which, incidentally, is something you shouldn’t do, as it expresses insincerity).

“We’re all different in how we handle things,” stresses Boon. “If someone learns a friend has cancer, some people would like to talk about it, others would not. Some people will take comfort from a big embracing hug; others will push it away. There’s no genetic answer.”

If we want them, though, hugs can be hugely effective. Scientifically proven to make us happy, releasing serotonin and dopamine while reducing tension and stress, they are a physical shortcut, expressing warmth and support without the need for vocabulary. As Ari Gold from Entourage once said: “Let’s hug it out, bitch.” Klingons be damned.

Thanks to GQ UK for the inspiration

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