11 Most Heart-Warming Hugs of the Last Decade
Not only are these the best hugs of the decade—just look at them—but science explains why these hugs (and yours) are so great for you.
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Hugs for health
It seems like just about everything has a day in its honor and hugs are no exception. National Hugging Day is celebrated on January 21, but you can appreciate these heartwarming embraces caught on camera any time of the year. Why do hugs tug at our heartstrings? The answer is actually chemical. “Oxytocin, which is the ‘attachment hormone,’ is released when we receive the touch of another human or animal,” says Nancy Irwin, a clinical psychologist and the primary therapist at Seasons in Malibu, a mental health treatment center. “Openness to receiving another is created, and the possibility, or reinforcement, of a connection.”
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When the Washington Nationals took home their first World Series win in 2019, there were celebratory hugs in spades. This embrace between teammates Juan Soto and Kurt Suzuki sums up the beauty of the hug. “Physically, hugs can increase circulation,” says Rebecca Ogle, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in Chicago, Illinois. “Hugs release endorphins and other chemicals in the body that relieve stress. Emotionally, hugs help us feel loved, and show love for someone else. Hugs remind us of the most important thing in life—our connection to others.” These are the health benefits of hugging backed by science.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Prince Harry found himself in the middle of a hug storm when he and wife Meghan Markle paid a visit to a youth dance center in Cardiff, Wales in January, 2018. While the tiny dancers look thrilled to offer the royal a group hug, in this case, the exchange was positive for both sides. “Hugs are so important because they create connection, both physically and emotionally,” explains Ogle. “We all need relationships to maintain good mental health.”
George W. Bush and Michelle Obama
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Regardless of their political differences, George W. Bush and Michelle Obama struck up a friendship that is positively heartwarming. This sweet embrace in 2016 at the dedication of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, is a reminder we’re stronger together. “When we see pictures of people hugging, particularly people with power and influence, on some level it models vulnerability,” explains professional counselor Brent Sweitzer, a professional counselor in private practice in Cumming, Georgia. “It’s one of the more physically vulnerable things people do in public.” These are the scientific benefits of having friends.
Boston Marathon bombing survivors
The Boston Marathon bombing that took place in 2013 rocked the nation and the tight-knit running community. Bombing survivors Adrianne Haslet-Davis and Jeff Bauman returned to the marathon in 2014, sharing a hug near the finish line of the race. “Part of why hugs are beneficial is that they can stimulate the production of oxytocin and other hormones that soothe our nervous system, increase our immune response, and generally help us feel safe and cared for,” says Sweitzer.
Soldiers reunite with loved ones
Military men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect our freedoms and the lives of others, often leaving behind family and friends for months at a time. On May 17, 2019, this Dutch soldier returned home after a five-month operation in Mali, Africa, and was reunited with a loved one. “What’s in a hug? Security, comfort, and care,” says Kevon Owen, a clinical psychotherapist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. “When a hug is done right it conveys all of these things in a way that is nearly primal in nature. Think about when you were a baby and you were held. Security, you were safe. Comfortable, you were at peace. Care, you were loved. Our mind holds on to this and craves it to this day.” Have a veteran in your life? These are the eight most common health issues veterans face.
When a Southern California woman returned home after being evacuated due to the area’s devastating wildfires in December 2017, she was overcome with emotion when she learned her house was intact. She offered Heartland Fire Department firefighter Simon Garcia an appreciative hug for his help and bravery. “Hugs are a statement of trust and acceptance is created when you allow another person into your closest physical space,” says Irwin. “While handshakes are a rather business-like way to indicate trust or the beginning of a relationship, hugs are more social, human. A hug can lighten up the seriousness of a deal, an agreement, closure to an argument.”
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Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
Audiences fell in love with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s on-screen chemistry when they appeared in 2018’s feature film A Star Is Born. Their performance at the Academy Awards and onstage embrace struck a chord with fans, who enjoyed seeing them so close in real life. “I believe this shows they are human,” says Irwin. “Aside from their brilliance, achievements, charisma, power—hugs equal us.” If you’re a huge fan of musicals or music in general, you’ll want to read about the inspiring health benefits of music.
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Speedskater John-Henry Krueger and Mom
The bond between mother and child was beautifully illustrated when speedskater John-Henry Krueger got a hug from his mother Heidi Krueger. This came after he clinched the men’s 1500-meter finals during the U.S. Olympic trials for short-track speedskating. He went on to win a silver medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics. To emphasize the importance of hugs, Sweitzer points to a famous quote by one of the founders of family therapy, Virginia Satir. “She was ahead of her time when she said this: ‘We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.’” This is why you should call your mom more often.
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Serena Williams and Venus Williams
Sisters and tennis icons Serena Willians and Venus Williams shared an epic embrace after winning the Olympic gold medal for Women’s Doubles Tennis in 2012. “We are captivated by images of people hugging because our own mirror neurons feel a sense of connection we see others hugging–in other words, it’s like receiving a virtual hug,” explains Lauren Cook, a therapist, author of Name Your Story: How to Talk Openly About Mental Health. A hug is an indication of social reciprocity, warmth, and caring—all indicators that humans crave in their social connections. It is natural that we crave these close connections and feel a sense of joy when we see others hugging as well. Check out the bizarre ways siblings affect you as a grownup.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir
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Nailed it! Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir couldn’t help but give each other a tight squeeze after completing a routine at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. “Hugs tend to reinforce and amplify positive feelings, says Ana Sokolovic, a licensed psychotherapist with an MS in Clinical Psychology who works with Parenting Pod. We often use and see them as signals of appreciation, gratitude, and acceptance.
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Leonardo DiCaprio and Julianne Moore
What do you give the man who appears to have everything, particularly after finally nabbing an Academy Award for Best Actor? In Leonardo DiCaprio’s case, Julianne Moore gave him a great big hug at the awards ceremony in 2016. But there’s more to that congratulatory hug than meets the eye. “There is a lot of research that suggests the positive effect of hugging for our immune system,” says Sokolovic. “Hugs help reduce stress, which is known to affect our ability to cope with sickness. It’s also important to notice the effect of oxytocin in our bodies when we hug. Oxytocin helps reduce blood pressure and the level of the stress hormone norepinephrine and it’s called the ‘cuddle hormone’ because of its increase in the body when we are physically affectionate with other people.” Here’s how kissing actually makes you stronger.
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- Brent Sweitzer, LPC, RPT, a professional counselor in private practice in Cumming, Georgia
- Rebecca Ogle, a licensed Clinical Social Worker and therapist in Chicago, Illinois
- Kevon Owen, LPC, a clinical psychotherapist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Dr. Nancy Irwin, Clinical Psychologist and Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu
- Lauren Cook, MMFT, therapist, author of Name Your Story: How to Talk Openly About Mental Health
- Ana Sokolovic, a licensed psychotherapist with an MS in Clinical Psychology