When it comes to proper etiquette, we typically think about which fork to use or how long it takes to send out wedding thank-yous. But there’s another (super important) area of etiquette you may want to add to your repertoire: the proper way to give hugs.

We know: What’s not to love about hugs? In addition to making us feel warm and fuzzy, hugs are responsible for a release of oxytocin, a hormone that's been linked to maternal behavior, social bonding, sexual pleasure, compassion and generosity. But while hugging might be a positive, hormone-inducing activity, hugs must be given properly -- and in the right context -- for participants to reap all of the feel-good benefits. “It can take a while to train yourself to give good hugs, and allow yourself to be received in this way,” says Christiane Northrup, MD. Next time you’re looking to wrap your arms around someone, keep three who, when and how factors in mind:

Good: Choose A Receptive Target

You know that coworker who recoils when you come within a five-foot radius? She probably won’t be a good hug buddy. While some non-huggers make themselves known, however, others make it tricky to analyze their nonverbal cues. “Use your intuition,” says Northrup, “and if you make the wrong hug decision, it’s fine -- just leave it be. Now you know for next time.” When choosing “huggees,” the workplace can be dicey, so hone in on family, close friends and significant others -- and your kids, even if they initially fight your affection, says Northrup. Another shoo-in is your pet: Dogs especially love receiving full-body hugs 24/7, and “there’s a reason pets help reduce your blood pressure,” Northrup says.

Better: Time It Right

While some experts cite an eight-hugs-a-day prescription for maximum oxytocin benefits (a worthy goal), Northrup is more concerned about hug quality. For you, this might mean instituting a morning “hug line” in your household, where everyone gets a slice of the oxytocin-boosting pie. Or, if you’re flying solo, certain activities guarantee some hug-like holding. Tango classes, says Northrup, require close physical interaction with different people every session, and are ideal for those who are still building up comfort and confidence around hugging. When to avoid hugs? When you or the potential recipient have been drinking heavily. In that case, says Northrup, actions and intentions often get misconstrued, which could lead to an uncomfortable aftermath. (Awkward!)

Best: Make A Smooth Move

“It feels horrible when you get a collarbone hug,” says Northrup, who maintains that this type of hug definitely does not increase oxytocin levels like a hug should. "Hugs that work the best involve your heart and another person’s heart touching," she says. "In the embryo, our arms begin as small buds adjacent to the heart itself. So the arms -- as well as the hands -- can be thought of as extensions of the heart energy." So: Once you determine that the person and timing are appropriate, go in for a bear hug and squeeze like you mean it! Ultimately, aim to make all of your hugs as oxytocin-boosting as possible -- without a side of awkwardness.


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