A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker


According to a friend of mine named Andrew, there are six basic essentials of life: air, water, food, clothing, shelter and hugging.

Yes, that's right. Hugging. This isn't just Andrew's opinion. He says he has scientific evidence indicating that every human being needs four hugs per day to survive, eight hugs per day to maintain life at a strong emotional level and 12 hugs per day in order to flourish and grow.

I'm not sure which scientists made this discovery or how they conducted their research. I don't know if one standard length hug can be replaced by two quick squeezes, or if one mondo super supreme hug can fulfill your minimum daily hug requirements. I only offer this information because National Hugging Day is coming up on Jan. 21, and I want you to be ready -- as hugger or huggee.

Frankly, I'm glad to see that hugging is finally getting its due. I come from a long line of huggers. Mom used to hug away our fears. Dad used to hug away our hurts. My oldest sister Jean used to hug me when it was Mom and Dad who I was afraid wanted to hurt me.

When we were really, really angry with each other, my sister Kathy and I used to hug each other until we couldn't breathe. That's because we knew we'd get in trouble for hitting, but we never got in trouble for hugging. We told Mom we only did it because we loved each other so much, but the truth is, we liked to see who could be the first to make the other's face turn blue.

For most people, however, hugging is less combative. In fact, Andrew's scientists -- whoever they may be -- insist that hugging is downright healthy. This is probably because, as Andrew says, "hugging is natural, organic, naturally sweet, free of pesticides and preservatives. Hugging contains no artificial ingredients. It's 100 percent wholesome. No calories, no nicotine."

I don't know about that, but I do know that hugging helps. In fact, sometimes it's the only thing that will help. A few years ago I was serving as a lay minister in my church, and I spent a lot of time with a troubled young man in the congregation. He was a good kid with great potential, but he kept using that potential in negative ways. He usually started out with good intentions, then he would make a bad choice or a dumb move, and before you knew it he was hip deep in difficulty.

One night I visited him in jail, and he looked helpless and frightened. His parents were weary of his escapades, and were unwilling to bail him out. His friends had turned against him, and his girlfriend wouldn't talk to him. He was embarrassed, frustrated and completely alone.

I wanted to say something to help him feel better, but I couldn't find the words. Silence hung between us like a rain-soaked hammock. And so I did the only thing I could think of to do: I hugged him. At first he just stood there awkwardly and let me hug him. After a few seconds he tried to pull away, but I wouldn't let go. The longer we stood there hugging, the more he relaxed.

Then I heard him sniffing. Then his shoulders were shaking. And then he was sobbing uncontrollably in my arms.

I wish I could tell you that this moment changed his life. The fact is, we're still working on it. But it clearly was a turning point in my relationship with him, and in my ability to have influence.

I'm not saying that hugging is a panacea for the world's problems. It won't create peace in the Middle East. It won't put nourishing food in the mouths of starving children. It won't offer protection from a hurricane, a tornado, cancer or an episode of "Jerry Springer." But it won't hurt,

either. And it just might give you the courage you need to cope with that other stuff.

Whether you're the hugger, or the huggee.


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--- (c) Joseph Walker

Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and