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The Conversation

Need a hug? For National Hugging Day, here's why we communicate through physical affection

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Need a hug? Friday was National Hugging Day, and while pandemic restrictions have decreased our opportunities for personal contact over the last couple of years, the importance of the embrace remains the same.

"Because people are very social beings, we need social relationships. Physical touch, like hugging, that's just one part of building new friendships or relationships, maintaining those relationships that we have — basically to tell somebody that you really care about them," said University of Hawaiʻi psychology professor Joni Sasaki.

But not everyone needs the same amount of affectionate touch. Some people are comfortable not being touched or hugged.

For those who miss physical touch — such as during the pandemic — Sasaki says there are other things you could try.

"I think there are other social gestures that can kind of replicate it in a way that it still can be satisfying for some people. When you have a really genuine warm smile towards somebody, the kind where your eyes smile but you can see it even above the mask, that kind of thing — that does a lot for people," she said. "I've seen people do air hugs or just genuine eye contact. Those are other social gestures that are natural, and you don't have to think about."

And of course, there's always verbal communication if you're comfortable.

"For some people, they will never say I love you or something, but they just want to hug you. So that can be tough for those people," Sasaki told The Conversation. "But if you're able to verbally communicate a bit more what you feel, that can be really good for yourself and for the other person who's receiving it."

This interview aired on The Conversation on Jan. 21, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

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