Well-Being//

This One Small Gesture Will Make You — and the People Around You — Happier

Research shows this one interaction will help decrease stress.

Fernando Trabanco Fotografía / Getty Images

New research, out of Carnegie Mellon University and published by PLOS ONE, looks into how hugs impact your negative feelings. The results are promising: One small hug can have a big impact on your stress.

These results are significant whether your interpersonal conflict tends to center around life with a romantic partner, friendships, or work relationships: wherever it happens, conflict with the people in your life is deeply stressful, and can drag down your daily happiness.

There are a broad range of tactics that can help you work through that stress: science has suggested everything from ASMR videos to writing down happy thoughts to avoiding artificial urgency. But the Carnegie Mellon study authors’ suggestion is perhaps the simplest tactic of all: just give someone a hug.

The study reveals a strong correlation between giving or receiving a hug and feeling less stressed by interpersonal conflict. Hug-receivers saw their affect change in two ways: “being hugged is associated with reduced conflict-related decreases in positive affect, and increases in negative affect as well,” according to the study authors. Both the dampening of happy feelings and strengthening of negative emotions we feel when we’re experiencing conflict were reduced by hugs — meaning that a hug left people with stronger happy feelings and weaker negative ones.

It’s not news that human touch makes us feel better — that’s been studied before, with positive results. What’s so exciting about this study, though, is that it focuses on platonic touch, a human interaction that can occur between any two people. And its findings were likewise broad: “Associations between hug receipt and conflict-related changes in affect did not differ between women and men, between individuals who were married or in a marital-like relationship and those who were not, or as a function of individual differences in baseline perceived social support,” the study authors write.

No one, it seems, is immune to the uplifting feeling of a hug. But lead study author Michael Murphy, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon, makes the crucial point that it’s “consensual hugs” that we’re talking about here. So if you’re looking to implement the findings of this study and incorporate some more hugs into your life, here are a few tips on where to find space for enthusiastically consensual hugs every day:

Before you leave the house

Start your morning by hugging your family, romantic partner or roommate before you walk out the front door. Beginning the day with a hug under your belt can help stop any lingering stress from darkening your morning.

And while this study focuses on human hugs, if you live with a pet, try giving them a goodbye hug, too — other research has shown that physical contact with an animal, even if it’s just a quick pet or hug, can make you feel happier.


In your free time

Prioritize seeing friends or family you care about in your free time — people you would like to hug! — and make sure to greet them with one (as long as you know they’re comfortable with the physical contact). No matter the time of day or occasion, there’s always time for a quick hug — take advantage of it, spread the love, and feel the impact on your mental well-being.

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