Hugging, Touching, Kissing: The Key to Happiness?

You smooch your pooch, cuddle with your baby, and engage in all manner of close physical contact with your partner. And afterwards, no matter how stressful and exhausting your day was, you find yourself feeling lighter and more relaxed.

Well, there's a reason cuddling and other forms of physical touch have a positive effect on you. Hugging and touching release oxytocin into the brain, and kissing increases dopamine in the brain, says Madeleine M. Castellanos, MD, a specialist in sex therapy.

Oxytocin, known as the bonding hormone, promotes a sense of comfort, peace, and joy, she notes. And dopamine, a neurotransmitter, controls the brain's pleasure and reward centers, Castellanos explains. "Dopamine is what causes us to seek out pleasurable and exciting activities," Castellanos says. "Dopamine makes you happier."

Yet these days, with so many people communicating with one another via social media and networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, physical touch isn't as easy to come by, says Carolyn Bates, certified personal life coach.

"We are being impersonalized," she says. "In some ways, we are hiding behind all these technologies. By not having as much physical contact, I think we are missing out on something, some type of connection."

Become More Touchy Feely

Reconnect with your significant other by rediscovering touch, and you may be surprised by how much happier you are. Try these tips.

1. Get more sleep and you'll feel more like having physical contact, says Charla Hathaway, intimacy coach and author of "Take Your Sex Life from OK to OMG." "Physical touching can't be done when you are exhausted," she says. "You need vitality and focus in order to give and receive touch."

2. Once you get involved in touching and caressing your partner, pay attention to your style of touching so that you'll give the most pleasure possible. "Very light stroking on the tops of the arms, legs, upper part of the back, and across the forehead gives people a sense of calm and it comforts them," Castellanos says. "Besides the sense of calm, it may also lower blood pressure."

3. When you are in conflict with a partner and engaged in verbal sparring, pay attention to that subtle separation between you. Make the situation better by sitting next to your partner on the couch and holding hands, Bates says. "Just sitting next to a person and engaged in a little touching can make a person happier," she says. "Touching each other is a very healthy thing. It's an energy source."

4. Like the jingle says, reach out and touch someone. "Kissing and hugging another person gets the message across that you are connected, that you are not alone and isolated," Hathaway says.