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by Jane Laskey
God, I could use a hug. Not a pint of Hagen-Daz, not a distracting movie, not a jigsaw puzzle – a hug.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to get one.
It’s a strange new world we’re living in. Hugs and handshakes have disappeared, replaced by elbow bumps and Zoom calls. Smiles are hidden behind masks. The sidewalks are too narrow to be shared.
It’s scary and it’s lonely. Let’s face it: we all could use a good hug.
So how do we connect in this time of social distancing?
We are social creatures
Talking, cuddling, holding hands – these are not just nice things. They are necessary things.
We are hard-wired to be social creatures. It’s in our DNA.
Our ancient ancestors weren’t holed up in caves feeding twigs to a fire alone. They clustered together in groups to fend off predators and forage for food. There was strength in numbers. The survival of our species depended on it.
These social instincts are still strong in us today.
Being cut off from one another for too long can actually harm us. Deprive babies of touch and they fail to thrive. Neglect children and their brains don’t fully develop. Isolate adults and they struggle with depression and other mental illness. That’s why solitary confinement is so tortuous.
Yet here we are, forced to isolate ourselves in the midst of a crisis. Our instincts are screaming for us to round up our people and circle the wagons. Our logic is arguing that sheltering at home is the smart choice.
No wonder we are stressed out! We’re in this together but we can’t BE together.
Kiss hugs and handshakes goodbye
I fear this virus, which has stolen so much from us already, may forever change the way we interact. Friendly, familiar gestures such as hugs and handshakes are now risky behaviors. What would life look like without them? More importantly, how do we stay healthy and happy without touch?
The handshake goes back thousands of years. It’s a simple gesture, understood in every language. It’s message? “I mean you no harm”. After all, you can’t shake someone’s hand if you’re carrying a weapon.
Over the centuries, handshakes have evolved. Today they seal deals, signal commitments and initiate introductions. A handshake is the first thing that happens in many social interactions, whether you’re introducing a client, meeting a new son-in-law, or greeting a neighbor.
I was taught that your handshake tells the world who you are. It needs to be a firm, confident, clasp that signals two equals meeting. A handshake says: hello, I see you, I acknowledge you, and welcome to the club!
An elbow bump just doesn’t get the job done. It feels more like you’re stuck in a crowded commuter train getting jabbed by strangers than greeting someone in a meaningful way.
It’s also inefficient. How much information do you take in through your elbow, for cripes sake? My elbow is great at letting me know it just collided with a countertop, but that’s the limit of its repertoire.
Of course, even an elbow bump sounds appealing when you can’t even get close enough to share an elevator!
Handshakes pale in comparison to a hug. A hug invites someone into your space. You literally stand heart to heart, enclosed in the warmth of their embrace.
Hugs are always personal and always positive.
The biggest moments in our lives require hugs. Hugs convey joy, love, comfort, and connection. Sports teams celebrate wins with fierce, joyful hugs. Friends and family hug hello and goodbye, closing the gaps that time and distance have created.
Hugs go beyond words, they communicate our deepest, most positive feelings:
- I’ve got you.
- I’m here.
- I care.
- I love you.
Yes, hugs are important, but like it or not they are taboo right now. So how do you satisfy that need for connection?
Finding meaning in the smallest gestures
Over the past few months of solitude, I have noticed a transformation in how I greet people. There are no more casual hellos. We are all so happy to see each other that these simple moments have become rich with meaning.
“Nice day,” we shout from opposite sides of the street, “How are you?” While inside our hearts are joyfully exclaiming: “You’re safe! I’m so glad to see you! My world has been smaller without you!”
What once was quickly said and just as quickly forgotten, has been revealed to be infinitely precious.
Chance encounters on the walking path require a full stop and conversation (from a safe distance). A neighbor working in their yard is a beacon calling us over for conversation. A small child peeking from behind a curtain in a window requires an enthusiastic wave and a smile.
These small moments of connection and communication may, in fact, be the best moments of our day.
We are in this together and we can feel it deep in our souls. We need, and I mean NEED, to connect with each other.
The good news? We don’t need a handshake for that.
Find a way to connect with someone outside of your own four walls every single day. Walk the dog, ride your bike, or grab an umbrella and splash your way through the rain. Whatever you do, stay at it until you see another friendly face. You’ll be glad you did.
Small acts of kindness
It seems just when I can’t find a reason to smile, someone surprises me with an unexpected act of kindness.
A neighbor delighted us by leaving a bouquet of lovely, purple tulips at our front door. A co-worker delivered cute May Day baskets filled with thoughtful treats. I smiled every time I looked at these generous gifts.
With money short and an abundance of time, strangers are reaching out to share a story or a laugh in social media. Puzzle, book and toy exchanges are popping up all over.
Throughout my community, people are making masks for those that need them. You can find them hanging on fence posts and waiting on front porches with notes to help yourself. Others buy lunches and treats for health care workers and other essential employees.
All of us are remembering what it means to be grateful, what it means to be thankful.
What can you do to bring a smile to someone’s face? Who needs your support? Add one simple act of kindness to each day. You’ll be amazed how wonderful it makes you feel.
Wake up your senses
Though our mortality has always lurked in the background, this pandemic has been an in-your-face reminder that life is short. Pandemic or not, we need to live each day fully.
If you’re feeling disconnected from yourself and others, you need look no further than your five senses. Pay attention and they will ground you in the world and remind you of the joys of living.
The most mundane tasks are transformed when you pay attention. What do you see? Feel? Taste? Smell? Hear?
If you’re out in the garden, feel the earth between your fingers, listen to the birds sing, smell the flowers and look up at that blue sky. Take a moment to breath and feel your connection to the world.
No garden? No problem. You can apply this to any task in your day. Something as simple as sipping a cup of coffee can be a transforming experience if you stop and let the world in.
Do this for just a few minutes every day and watch your world expand.
Let the music move you
There is nothing that will wake you up faster than movement and music. Turn on the radio and dance. Grab a pail and a spoon and pound along to the rhythm of the music. Raise your voice and sing.
What’s that you say? You haven’t danced in years? You’re tone deaf?
I’ve got a news flash for you. No one cares!
Are you going to let a little self-consciousness keep you from having a little fun? Heck no.
It doesn’t matter if you look silly – in fact there is nothing more freeing and joyous than letting yourself be a little goofy sometime. After a song or two, I guarantee you will feel so much better.
If this sounds too daunting, then indulge in watching one of the many musical parodies, lip-sync battles or family dance videos you can find on YouTube (and all over the internet). Wrap yourself up in the sheer joy of watching people celebrate without a care in the world.
If this pandemic has taught me anything it’s that we are lost without each other. But we can still connect in this time of social distancing.
Don’t let this virus make your world smaller. You can still live a big life within the confines of your small home. Connecting with your community and your world with simple, daily actions will make your days feel fuller and your heart feel lighter.
One day this will be behind us. On that happy day, we will celebrate the normal things we miss so much. Hugs and handshakes will be welcome gestures once again.
Jane Laskey is the founder of Plain Jane’s Guide to Happiness. She is a 50+ woman from Minnesota who describers herself as a seeker of bliss, creative junkie and work in progress, determined to make the second half of her life the best ever. To do so, she focuses on the things that make her feel alive and ditching the things that don’t. In her inspiring blog, she shares personal experiences, deep thoughts and eternal optimism.
top image source: Braylee Gramling from unsplash.com
all other images owned by Jane Laskey