Jo Lindberg, 30, thought accounting would be her career goal.
However, a teacher suggested she try something else, “something that deals more directly with people.”
So, she changed her career path to hugging.
Today, Lindberg is known as “Cuddles the Huggy Bear, the Ambassador of Hugs.” She has been delivering Hug Grams for a living for six years. For $45 you get a hug from Cuddles, a jingle, a hug certificate and hugs all around for party guests.
In fact, Lindberg has been giving gentle embraces to about 2,000 people a month since she was 20, some of it for money, but most given free, especially to the elderly and people with health problems.
“I believe that what you give away comes back to you,” said Lindberg, a graduate of Pacifica High School in Garden Grove. “I make people feel good.”
More important to the Orange woman, however, is her nonprofit Hugs for Health Foundation and its newly formed 100-member volunteer Hug Squad.
“Hugs are uplifting and supportive and my job is to put smiles on faces,” said Lindberg, who also gives workshops on proper ways to hug. “Sometimes we deal with very frail people, so you have to be careful.”
In researching hugs, Lindberg said she learned that “human beings have a need for human touch. It is nurturing.”
Lindberg likes to explain that hugging is a non-sexual form of affection, a point she makes when delivering her Hug Grams and at fairs, trade shows and conventions.
“Sending a hug is sending love and it’s not lustful,” she said.
Sometimes, Lindberg has to educate people about the etiquette of hugging, especially the occasional overzealous hugger.
“I don’t tolerate gropers who go beyond good taste,” she said. “I give that person an immediate crash course on the appropriate way hugs should be given, and what they mean.”
For the most part, hugging has given her joy but Lindberg feels it has affected her social life.
“I’d like to be married, but a couple of guys I met couldn’t accept the fact that hugging is my life’s work,” she said.
The hug foundation gears its hugs to people in convalescent hospitals, senior centers and retirement homes.
“The idea is to let those people know that someone cares for them,” said Lindberg, who dresses in a bear costume when making her hug rounds. “I give 17 different types of hugs for people with different kinds of needs.”
Lindberg always wears a button that reads, “I Love to Hug.”
Her career as a professional hug therapist, as she calls herself, started in an escrow office when she and another female employee formed a hug squad.
“If felt real good and it became very natural to me, even though I wasn’t raised in a huggy family,” she said.