A week or so ago, we visited a relative who is battling cancer. As we left and I gave her a hug, she said, “I need a really good hug. Did you know that hugs are healing?” I obliged and gave her what I thought was a good hug. I’ve thought of that “hug healing concept” several times since then.

I know some people who are “huggy” people. They expect a hug every time I see them. Fortunately, most of these people are females. It’s not that I’m biased, but if I’m receiving or giving hugs, I tend to prefer females.

I’m fine with a “man hug”, but I just simply have that preference. I do detect more man-hugging going on today than I did in the olden days when I was a youth. I don’t remember my dad being big on hugs.

One Sanpete woman I see occasionally always gives me a hug and often gives me a bonus kiss on the cheek. I think she does this with a lot of people. She’s a few years older than me and is pretty much alone in the world. I believe that the hugging is a way that she gets “human touch” in her life. That, according to some sources, is a significant need for humans.

According to a little research I did, “skin hunger” and “touch deprivation” are real issues with people. I know that this perhaps can start sounding a little creepy, but let’s focus on the positive.

Matthew Hertenstein, PhD, is the director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University. (Really? – Touch and Emotion Lab?) He says that “most of us, whatever our relationship status, need more human contact than we’re getting.”

Neurologist Shekar Raman, M.D. of Richmond, Virginia, says “a hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward center in the central nervous system… making us feel happiness and joy.”

I’ve kind of made a transition in my life. Over the years, I’ve gradually gone from being a non-hugging, non-touchy person to being more of a touchy, hugger type (within appropriate limits, I hasten to say).

I think that the pivotal set of events that spurred the change was the death of my parents. Somehow, I think that losing my mom and dad, who had been a part of my life forever, motivated me to be more susceptible to “the human touch” thing.

I have learned that not everyone wants to give or get a hug. Some people just aren’t the “touchy” type. Some have had negative experiences with touchy people. Others just haven’t become comfortable with having their space invaded.

I notice that sometimes we almost force kids to give hugs when they really aren’t in the mood. Then there are enthusiastic kids who will cut off the circulation in your neck with boa constrictor-like hugs.

While going through the reception line at a wedding a while back, I gave my normal announcement as I got to the bride with whom I wasn’t acquainted. “I hug brides,” I said as I leaned in for a congratulatory hug. (Brides tend to be good huggers whether they know you or not.)

As I approached the groom, I put forth my hand for a congratulatory shake. My hand was ignored and he wrapped me up in a bear hug complete with the traditional man-hug back slaps. One never knows where the next hug is coming from.

Personal space can be a cultural thing. We in North America tend to want more space than most people in South American and Arab cultures. I would say that we, as Sanpeters, enjoy wide-open spaces in both our personal space needs, as well as in our general living needs.

We just have to try to be aware of the individual preferences of those with whom we associate. I used to have guy friends back in my high school and college days that liked to sit with a vacant seat in between any other guy when we went to the movies. I think it was a macho “guy thing” and the desire to stretch out and occupy some of that “wide-open personal space.”

As I think about it, there are lots of other situations where people get that human touch we’re talking about. One of the most common is massage therapy. It’s big business. I saw an advertisement for a massage school on TV. The girl giving the testimonial was weeping as she explained how becoming trained as a massage therapist had changed her life.

There are several massage therapists in Sanpete. I know people who go regularly for treatments. It evidently is helpful for aching muscles and has a rejuvenating effect on people. I haven’t had much experience with massage.

Years ago though, my wife and I were on an anniversary cruise and scheduled a couple’s massage. We were in a dimly lit room with some sort of calm new age music playing. There was an aromatherapy thing going on as well.

We each had a massage therapist working on our muscles. The rejuvenating effect for me was that I promptly fell asleep during the massage. I guess it was money well spent for a quality nap.

Perhaps we should all evaluate ourselves in regards to this human touch concept. Maybe as the Touch and Emotion Lab guy believes, we need more human contact. Maybe some of us need to back off and stop scaring people to death by being that weird, hug freak person! Like most things, there’s probably a happy medium that we need to migrate towards. Think about it.

P.S. I’m not ending this column with “X’s” or “O’s” because I’m really not sure which one means kisses and which one means hugs.

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