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Gretchen Rubin

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How To Be Happier: Kiss More, Hug More, Touch More

Posted: 05/10/09 09:27 AM ET

I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday's post will help you think about your own happiness project.

A few days ago, I posted about how watching the movie "Twilight" made me more determined to keep my resolutions to be tender and romantic. After I looked at my list, however, I realized that I'd never made a specific resolution to "Kiss more, hug more, touch more." So I've added that to my ever-growing list of resolutions.

It's easy to see that kissing, hugging, and touching would boost the tenderness in your romantic relationship. However, physical expressions of affection can strengthen all sorts of connections.

In her fascinating book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky discusses a study in which students were assigned to two groups. One group was the control; one group was assigned to give or receive at least five hugs each day for a month - a front-to-front, non-sexual hug, with both arms of both participants involved, and with the aim of hugging as many different people as possible. The huggers were happier.

Another study showed that women who got hugs several times a day from their husbands had lower blood pressure than those who didn't get hugged as often.

Interesting fact: to be most effective at optimizing the flow of the chemicals oxytocin and serotonin - which boost mood and promote bonding - hold a hug for at least six seconds.

Along with hugging, playful and affectionate touching makes you feel closer to the people important to you. And touch is important even with strangers -- studies show that subliminal touching (touching so subtle that it's not consciously perceived) dramatically increases a person's sense of well-being and positive feelings toward you, the toucher. For example, research shows that when restaurant servers touch their customers, they increase their tips by more than 3 percent.

I haven't come across any research that examines the effects of kissing, but I think it's safe to venture that lots of kisses will make you happier.

Expressing affection (in whatever way you express it) makes a big difference in relationships. For instance, people are 47% more likely to feel close to family members who frequently express affection than to those who rarely do so.

But there's another reason to express affection. One of my most important Personal Commandments is to Act the way I want to feel. We think we act because of the way we feel, but often, we feel because of the way we act. By acting in a loving way, you prompt loving feelings in yourself. It's much harder to be angry or annoyed with someone when you're kissing or hugging or touching.

Be careful, however, to keep those physical expressions of affection appropriate. During a radio interview after I posted about Happiness Myth #7: Doing "Random Acts of Kindness" Brings Happiness, the host mentioned that he'd been walking been walking down the street when a guy announced, "Free hugs!" and gave him a big bear hug - a random act of kindness which did not result in happiness in that case. And the non-sexual nature of your full-frontal, two-armed hug might be misinterpreted, if you're not careful.

Do you find that touching, hugging, and kissing boosts your happiness? Have you found any strategies to make sure you don't forget this aspect of relationships?

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Speaking of being more loving, over on the Facebook Page, a lot of people have posted about their strategies for keeping romance strong in a long relationship. Good ideas.

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Super-fans, I'm waiting to get the email telling me that I can send you the link to the super-fabulous, soon-to-be-unveiled website, for pre-launch. I know I keep saying that, but I really am hoping that it will be TODAY! Or maybe Monday. Want to be a super-fan? Sign up here.

 
 
 

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