For the last ten years, I have been living in a multicultural environment in which I had to learn new ways to behave with friends. For example, when I meet a friend, I need to remind myself in what country I am so that I adapt the appropriate behaviour: kiss on both cheeks or give a hug around the neck.
The culture in my home country is to kiss friends on both cheeks. When I moved to the country of adoption, of course I started comparing how friends express affection towards one another! Of course, I interpreted the hugging around the neck as a sign of less affection, especially when the person hugging me would keep the rest of the body slightly farther from my body. I longed after kissing on cheeks as a sign of affection towards friends.
Darwin conjectured that kissing is innate in our genes. To date, scientists have not been able to conclude whether kissing is a learned behaviour for affection or whether we kiss out of instinct (Sheril Kirshenbaum, The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us). Hugging may have a similar innate tendency.
Instinctively, our bodies know better that kissing and hugging have health benefits, as the research shows. Hugging seems to increase the levels of oxytocin and reduce blood pressure (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4131508.stm). Women seem to get more health benefits from hugging than men, the research does not tell why. Maybe because women are more needy of affection? Maybe.
Children in particular are in need of affection. According to intelligence researcher Jay Gordon, co-author of “Brighter Baby”, children who receive long hugs each day, are smarter (http://www.ehow.com/about_4572011_what-hug-day.html).
Romantic kissing was proven to relax the brain, reduce stomach and bladder infections, and relieve pain, just to name a few of the benefits (http://www.bestkisses.com/kisses-for-health.html). I could not find any study on what kind of health benefits the kiss on the cheeks has. I would argue that kissing on the cheeks has the psychological benefit of boosting the self-esteem. Isn’t that a wonderful feeling when you are reminded that you have friends who love and respect you?
Taking a closer look at the ‘kiss on the cheek’ culture, with disappointment I came to realise that sometimes the kisses were theatrical. So, the years spent in the multicultural environment, opened my eyes to these two types of non-verbal communication of affection between friends and put an end to my longing after kissing on the cheek. In the end, I guess that both kissing and hugging can convey affection in an equal manner provided the underlying feeling is sincere.
Beyond the cultural norms, showing affection to friends is a question of personal preference. Some may be more comfortable with kissing, others with hugging. Some may prefer both, while others would skip both. It depends on how comfortable each of us is with showing our affection. And as long as we do it from the heart, the health benefits are guaranteed. How many of the hugs and kisses that we receive during one day are sincere? Let’s do the counting in our silent corner, shall we?
BTW Merry Christmas to You!