Which Do You Prefer: Kissing or Hugging Your Friends?

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! 🙂

How Faithfully Do Words Reflect Our Emotions?

I love poetry and romance books. One verse in a poem or one sentence in a book would touch me deeply and would keep me company for days, sometimes weeks. When I started writing poems, it took only a few minutes to write a poem down. The process of creation has always been a mystery to me. For example, I would sit in a bus when I felt there was a poem in me waiting to be written. The next thing was to look for a piece of paper and a pen in my bag. Yet, I realised that as much as I love words, they fail to express the intensity of the feelings bubbling deep inside.

To my mind, especially words like love, joy or grievance are weak indications of the state of being of Love, Joy or Grievance. I remember when I met a friend after her father had passed away. I wanted to say something to show that I genuinely sympathised for her loss. Despite all my effort to come up with an empathic sentence, I quickly said the official “Condolences” to her. I knew there was no word invented which could comfort her a tiny bit. Being by her side in silence was the best thing I could do.

Someone told me, “A good poet or writer will always find words to express feelings.” This may be the case, but not all of us are born poets or writers. Common people feel the urge to communicate strong feelings too.

I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth“, when I realised that when feeling pure Love, Joy, or Grievance, the most important is to focus on those states of being without assigning any words to them. Those are the rare moments when we truly live – when the mind is quiet and the inner state is “talking”.

Saying “I love you” maybe not need to be said too often. When Love and Joy are felt at the deepest level of our being, they emanate an energy which is felt by the persons whom we truly love.

I will always be in love with words, especially the ones positively charged, and I am aware how important words are in communication (this blog post is one example). Still, in my opinion, our subjective inner lives are by far much richer. Hence, before hurrying up to express how we feel, it is worthwhile to listen in silence to what we feel.

Do You Have Fear of Pain? Tell Me How You Deal With It

I have always had a terrible fear of physical pain. My pain tolerance went so high that when I would cut my finger, the feeling of the pain combined with the sight of blood would lead to fainting. After giving birth, I congratulated myself for defeating my general fear of pain and the specific fear of labor. I was proud for joining the league of super women who defied the pain and gave birth naturally (thanks God for epidural). I thought that I became stronger.

Few days ago, I saw my dentist. Waiting to be called into the dentist’s office, to my surprise, I started feeling dizzy. I was laying down on the chair of torture with the protection glasses on, when after only few seconds the lenses became blurry and my forehead sweaty. To my bigger surprise, I was terrified of the anticipated pain as much as before giving birth – if not even more.

In 2001, a team of Finnish researchers from the Helsinki University Central Hospital, the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology did a study on the pain tolerance in women with fear of labor and compared it with the pain tolerance in women without fear of labor (should you want to see the elaborate description of how the pain was measured and the study was conducted, please read Saisto et al., 2001). I thought that every woman has fear of labor. I stand corrected. The findings of the study show that all the women, both the fearful and the fearless have a lower pain tolerance during pregnancy than after pregnancy – not my case. Yet, both before and after pregnancy, the women with fear of labor tolerated pain for a shorter period of time compared with the women without fear of labor. In addition, fear of labor may reduce the pain tolerance in some women, and I seem to be one of them.

The findings of the above-mentioned study seem counterintuitive to me. After I managed one of the most excruciating pains, why am I even more afraid when I am anticipating pain?

Strong motivation. That’s the key. During the labor, the thought that I want my baby to come out of me healthy gave me the courage to manage the pain the best I could. During the visit to the dentist, my mind was blocked by fear. So, after getting over the disillusionment that my pain tolerance decreased after giving birth, I figured out that learning how to manage the fear is the most desirable behaviour. What does this mean? It means lots of work with my flimsy mind, which will be put to test during the next visit to the dentist – not any time soon. 🙂

I cooked up my future reaction to the fear of pain. That’s what we need to do when we have fears: plan how to circumvent them. So, what I’ll do first is to accept my fear and communicate it to the dentist. Being a woman, it should be easier to confess that I am afraid. If I were a man, probably I’d skip this first step and go ahead to the next one, which is thinking of something joyful while the dentist will be excavating my teeth (i.e., the smile of my baby or me eating Ben&Jerry’s). Last, I’ll keep on saying to myself that the pain is only temporary. I shall see how my mind will be willing to cooperate!


So What If Men Were Happier Than Women?

We were driving to a friend’s place and I was complaining how much I hate Winter. The frozen and grey landscapes unfolding in front of my eyes stunned me. The thought that this Winter will be around for the next five months horrified me even more. I came up with scenarios of escapes to milder climate. “You pay too much attention to what happens around you,” , my husband said. “Ignore the weather!”

“Men must be happier than women”, I mumbled to my chin. It was a generalisation on the spur of the moment, but it got glued to my mind. I knew I am not the only one who thinks that men are happier. Every woman must think the same at least once in their lifetime. Is it really true that men are the favourites of God? I got curious: how did researchers in psychology and sociology tackle this issue?

The latest results come from research in genetics, which concludes that women may actually be happier than men. Scientists in genetics identified a specific gene, which is correlated with the self-reported happiness of the women which took part in the study (http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2012/08/28/women-are-happier-than-men-testosterone-to-blame/). The correlation did not exist in sample of men which participated to the study. This specific gene is called monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) and it determines how the brain processes dopamine and serotonin, the chemicals which determine our innate level of happiness.


Furthermore, the scientists explain that the testosterones prevent men from being happy in the long-run. The older men get, the levels of testosterones increase and cancel the positive effects of the MAOA on men’s mental state.


Psychologist Sonja Lyubomisrky says that both men and women have equal chances to become happier, despite the happiness level determined by their genes. In her book, “The How of Happiness“, Sonja Lyubomirsky agrees that both men and women have a genetically determined predisposition towards happiness of 50%. As we become adults, 10% of our happiness is coming from life circumstances, such as income level or marital status – surprisingly little, I may say. We are left with this significant 40% chance to happiness, which is great news from everyone, including the born depressed ones!


Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist in collaboration with four psychologists analysed the data of a survey on the happiness of women and men in USA over the last four decades (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/business/worldbusiness/25iht-leonhardt.7636350.html?pagewanted=all). Based on this study, men are happier than women in our modern society. Men are working less and relaxing more. Women have two jobs, one paid and the other one at home, even though they admit cleaning the house is not done as thoroughly as three decades ago. In addition, women have longer to-do lists, which can be stressful if tasks are left undone. For example, women spend 90 minutes more than men on unpleasant activities, such as paying bills.


Anke Plagnol, sociologist at Cambridge University and Richard Easterlin, economist at the University of Southern California, compared responses to two surveys – one on aspirations and attainments and the other on satisfaction and happiness (http://www.newscientist.com/blog/shortsharpscience/2008/07/are-men-happier-than-women.html). They concluded that women are happier in the first part of adulthood but in the mid-life there is a change-over in the happiness level. Women become more depressed whereas men are more likely to be more fulfilled and happier, and it all comes down to unfulfilled desires.


So, who is happier than who? Women seem to be born with a special gene, which helps them smile throughout life. The testosterone cancels out the effect of this special gene in men, which makes men grumpier as they grow old. Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her two colleagues bring good news to both genders by showing that we have the capacity to fight for happiness. Poor or wealthy, married or divorced, healthy or unhealthy, man or woman, we have the power to improve our lives.


How can women fight for their happiness despite their spending more time on unpleasant activities or unfulfilled goals? After a certain age, the feeling of fulfilment is the main source of happiness. Maybe life didn’t go exactly as you hoped for – this is valid for both genders. Yet, whenever you feel unfulfilled, take a closer look at your life and you’ll see there is at least one aspect which has meaning. Start from there the way towards happiness and continue it with the change of your mindset.


In the end, I guess that men and women are happy in their own way, with the peculiarities in which the nature designed them to have. For example, women are designed to give birth to their babies and men to spread their seeds. Women get to experience the happiness of feeling their baby move inside them. Men get to experience the happiness of impregnating the woman they love (ideally).


Women may come from Venus and men from Mars but they live on Earth and they can teach one another some lessons of happiness. For example, women can learn from men how to be more confident in life and relax more. In their turn, it is high time that men learnt that sharing with their spouses the less pleasant activities, like housekeeping, is a simple way to maintain the happiness in their relationship.


Finally, life is by far more exciting with all the differences between men and women. No matter who is happier than who, happiness can be contagious, so watch out with whom you are hanging out!