A Little Happier: Does a Teddy Bear Comfort You, Even Now?

I’m working on a book about the five senses, about how our five senses can help us feel the vitality and connection that we crave.

As part of that investigation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the sense of touch, and how we sometimes we can reach out our hands to a texture that can give us comfort and reassurance. Children have their beloved stuffed animals and blankets, and so do adults.

For instance, my own sister Elizabeth, the co-host of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, has her “Blankee.” She still sleeps with her Blankee, and says that in an emergency, after her family, she’d grab her Blankee.

A friend told me, “My aunt works in palliative care, and she told me they recently put in a big order for light, cuddly blankets. They realized it was really comforting for people to have something to soft and warm to hold on to.”

Because I’ve been thinking about the sense of touch, I was very struck by a passage from the essay “Teddy Bears” in John Green’s collection The Anthropocene Reviewed (Amazon, Bookshop). (John Green is the author of novels such as The Fault in Our Stars (Amazon, Bookshop) and with his brother Hank, host of the YouTube channel Vlogbrothers.)

He recalled:

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my tenth birthday. I retreated to my room after an exhausting party and cuddled up with a teddy bear, but I found that it didn’t really work anymore, that whatever had once soothed me about this soft and silent creature no longer did. I remember thinking that I would never be a kid again, not really, which was the first time I can recall feeling that intense longing for the you to whom you can never return.

I know that feeling of growing-up, of when my beloved stuffed bear Cocoa became just a stuffed bear.

Teddy bear on shelf between books

Nevertheless, I must admit that while I no longer hug Cocoa when I’m upset, it’s also true that Cocoa still sits on my bookshelf, always within easy reach. When I touch that soft, worn, plush toy, I feel reassured by that comforting connection to the physical world, and also to my past.

Sometimes, we can minister to the body through the spirit, and sometimes we can minister to the spirit through the body.




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