Last month, I was in Chicago visiting my sister and her family when my youngest nephew, Wells (2 feet of Grade A baby cuteness!), came running toward me out of nowhere – a huge gap-toothed grin on his face – and wrapped himself around my leg in a tight squeeze. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about that moment in the last few weeks. What a fun place the planet would be if grown-ups felt such spontaneous joy and – imagine this – EXPRESSED IT (in a completely legal way, of course).
I first noticed how touch-deprived I was a couple years ago when I found myself leaning in to hug a complete stranger on a packed rush hour train just because I was tired, and, well, because it seemed like there was a 20% chance he might hug me back. When you find yourself packed like sardines into tight spaces that lend themselves to that peculiar intimacy between strangers, you can’t help but be acutely aware of the body heat inside the pant leg next to yours. But growing increasingly concerned about the likelihood that I would one day unleash a Fifty Shades of Grey fantasy on an unwitting commuter, I decided to talk to a friend about it.
We’ll call him Flynn O’Toole (his name has been changed to protect my integrity) – I asked him, “Why is it that we, as a society, shy away from touch the older we get? Now I’m not suggesting the relative-who-kisses-too-long-on-the-mouth or creepy-boss-who-pats-your-butt-at-the-water-cooler kinds of touching…but gentle, subtle contact – a hug when you’re happy for someone at work, a hand on the elbow as you hold a door open, or a clap on the shoulder after a good joke?” It was at this point that “Flynn” reached across the table and touched my hand. I’ll admit that I immediately recoiled in my booth and made some crack about catching cooties, but in truth, it was actually quite lovely. I don’t like that I’ve been conditioned to withdraw from friendly affection!
It turns out I’m not the only one thinking this way. I’ve started seeing articles popping up all over the place about the power of human touch – to heal, to placate, to energize. Take a look at this recent article on the health benefits of casual human touch. I encourage you to take the One Week Challenge – just touch someone every day and report back about how it made you feel. I, for one, know how good it felt when Wells gave me that bear hug, drool and all. 4 weeks later, and it still puts a smile on my face.
(What’s Your Secret is a regular feature exploring the different things that make people happy. Please submit YOUR ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org!)