12 Hugs a Day

hugs_dogRenown psychologist Virginia Satir once stated,

“We need four hugs a day for survival.  We need eight hugs a day for maintenance.  We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”

I don’t know if those numbers have been scientifically proven, but I do know the power of a hug.

Several years ago I was at a church conference in Redding, CA. The object of the conference was to teach us to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit and what God might be saying to someone through us. So there was session after session on hearing God and the many ways He speaks. It was a great conference and I learned a lot from all that was taught. But one incident there impacted me more than all of the teaching over the whole four day weekend.

It was a hug.

We all tended to sit in the same seats each session, and there was an elderly lady who often sat across the aisle from me to my left. She had some sort of palsy and her whole body shook all the time. On the third day of the conference, I walked over to introduce myself. Her name was Joyce Adrian and she was from somewhere in Washington state.

After we exchanged introductions, she reached out to hug me. When she wrapped her arms around me, I was overcome with the love of God and burst into tears.

I was a little embarrassed, so I joked, “Wow! That was some hug!”

She laughed and said, “My hugs often have that effect on people.”

Joyce went on to tell me that she had asked God for a way to demonstrate His love to others and decided she would try and hug everyone she met. And He began giving her hugs supernatural power to cause people to feel His love when she hugged them. She said that even tough bikers would break down in tears when she hugged them.

I was amazed, and I started asking for a hug every time I saw her. Her hugs always produced the same effect—an overwhelming feeling of God’s love for me that brought me to tears and sometimes caused me to tremble.

When the conference was over, I went back to Tennessee, but I asked God for Joyce Adrian’s gift. It just seemed to me that knowing how to hear from God for others was really important, but what was even more important was that they were able to experience His love for them.

Most of the time when we hug someone it’s kind of a courtesy hug. You know what I mean—like a peck on the cheek is a courtesy kiss. It’s perfunctory and usually done in passing, our mind on whatever we’re hurrying off to do next. We tend to be awkward, stiff, stand-offish and insincere with hugs. And often the response we get if we extend the hug a little longer than usual is one of impatience, because the person at the other end of the hug either senses its perfunctory nature or suspects we might have an ulterior motive.

We especially do this with our children. We tend to be so preoccupied with “What’s next?” that we don’t spend the time to be fully present when we hug or hold them.

But I decided that when I hugged or held someone I was going to be totally there and really concentrate on being a conduit of God’s love for them.

So I started hugging people and really “being there” during the hug, being fully present with no agenda except to focus fully on the person I was hugging.

The Power of a Hug

Shortly after the conference, I was in a church service and a woman named Heidi Baker was one of the speakers. Heidi and her husband Roland have a ministry in Mozambique to the poorest of the poor—people who actually live in the garbage dump. The Bakers have experienced astonishing healings and miracles in their ministry and have even had people raised from the dead.

I was amazed as I watched Heidi during the ministry time after she spoke. She took the time with each one to actually hold them in her arms. When she prayed for them, it wasn’t as much prayer as it was holding and rocking them. And miracles happened. I saw the power of taking time for the individual, and how it demonstrated the love of God to people. So I longed even more for Joyce Adrian’s gift.

I continued experimenting with what I call “extreme hugs”—hugs where I was totally there and loving the person. Nothing happened for a while. Then one day a woman I barely knew came to talk to me about her failing marriage. I felt real compassion for her, so I hugged her. She immediately started crying, shaking, and fell to the ground overcome with the love of God.

That was the beginning. Not everyone I hug, hold, or touch affectionately has the same intensity of response, but many have told me they feel the love of God for them when I hug or hold them.

A few years later, I heard about Amma, born the daughter of a poor fisherman, but known throughout the world as “India’s hugging saint.” Her mission in life is to hug people. She has travelled all over the world and has hugged 34 million people since she was 14 years old. People who receive her hugs often burst into tears and report feelings of bliss. Some have even been healed of diseases just from Amma’s simple hug. Why? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it’s because Amma’s hugs are like Joyce Adrian’s and Heidi Baker’s—they are a total, complete embrace of the person. For some, it may be the first time in their whole lives that someone has shown focused affection toward them with no agenda.

Then I saw a video about the Free Hugs Campaign. Started by one man, Juan Mann in Australia, who stood in a shopping center with a sign that read “Free Hugs,” it has now spread to dozens of countries. It seems that people are so desperate to be embraced that they will accept hugs from total strangers in public places.

Watch the video about the Free Hugs Campaign HERE
. It is very touching (literally).

I know we need to be careful about hugging others. After all, we live in a litigious society where people are quick to assume there is some sort of sexual harassment behind a hug. But I’m not talking about unwelcome hugs. Even our children should be free to refuse hugs they don’t want (even if it’s a hug from Mom or Dad). That being said, there are a lot of benefits to hugging our children.

10 Benefits of Hugging for Children (and for you!)

  1. Hugs help children feel loved. Do you know that hugging and being hugged releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone?
  2. Hugs help children feel safe and build trust.
  3. Hugs improve pulmonary and immune system functions. When we hug someone, oxytocin is released into our bodies and the body of the one we are hugging by our pituitary gland, lowering both our heart rates and our cortisol levels.
  4. Hugs build patience. A sincere, fully present hug slows us down and cultivates better patience in the hugger and the one being hugged.
  5. Hugs lower anxiety and stress.  Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Because hugs release oxytocin, they reduce our cortisol levels.
  6. Hugs contribute to better overall health. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine carried out more than 100 studies into touch and found evidence of significant effects, including faster growth in premature babies, reduced pain, decreased autoimmune disease symptoms, lowered glucose levels in children with diabetes, and improved immune systems in people with cancer.
  7. Hugs lower feelings of loneliness, isolation and anger (by instantly boosting oxytocin levels in the body).
  8. Long hugs boost serotonin levels, making you happier! Hugging for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.
  9. Hugs stimulate brains to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Dopamine is responsible for giving us that feel-good feeling, and it’s also responsible for motivation!
  10. Hugging boosts self-esteem. The cuddles we received from our parents while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us that we are loved and cared for. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self love.

So go out and give each of your children 12 hugs today!


  1. C Jordan says:

    Thank you for a timely and encouraging article.
    C Jordan

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