Happy holidays! I hope everyone is enjoying the season and indulging in plenty of eggnog, cheer and lots and lots of hugs! It seems like the holidays are always full of hugs, and since I’m generally a fan of a nice embrace, I kind of like it.

Most of my family and friends are enthusiastic huggers, and I even got a big smile and a little one-armed squeeze the other day from a total stranger in Winn-Dixie when I stopped to help her pick up a bag of onions she accidentally spilled. Either that or she was trying to pick my pockets, using a fake hug as her cover. Or maybe she was just reaching around me to grab a new produce bag. At any rate, I took it as a warm gesture of friendly appreciation and it kind of made my day.

I’ve always thought Mobile was a pretty huggerific city, and from my observations it seems extremely common for friends, casual acquaintances and often even professional colleagues to greet each other with a friendly embrace, particularly when at least one of the parties is a woman. My husband swears he has never once witnessed two male mechanics exchanging a hug, but I’m not really sure I believe him.

All in all I’d say we’re a pretty friendly bunch in Alabama, and really the South in general. Either that or our region is flooded with would-be pickpockets. All I know is that I’ve been pick-pocketed twice in my life, once in Boston and once in New Orleans, and I certainly didn’t get any hugs in Boston.

That jerk forcefully plowed into me and deftly slipped a package right out of my shopping bag during the confusion that ensued. I should have known I’d be marked as a target since I probably stood out like a fried shrimp at a lobster boil, sauntering slowly through the bustling city in my tacky pink Bama T-shirt, smiling at everyone I passed as they averted their eyes and sprinted off to do something important. I’m actually a bit shy in general but this was way out of my league.

I received exactly one friendly smile that seemed sincere, from none other than actor Richard Gere, who happened to pass me on the crowded Boston sidewalk. But that’s another story for another day.

At least the NOLA thief offered a little warmth with his larceny. He not only offered a free hug when he approached me, but he told me I was pretty just before he snatched my wallet and bolted. Somehow, it just went down a little easier that way. Friendliness is important, y’all.

I recently encountered a pretty interesting Time Magazine article that featured a “mood map” of the country, created through a 13-year Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study ranking the contiguous 48 states and the District of Columbia according to the average temperament of their respective citizens.

Thousands of volunteers from each state were tested and assessed in five basic categories including extroversion (sociability and gregariousness), conscientiousness (self-discipline and dependability), neuroticism (anxiety and anger), agreeableness (compassion and cooperativeness), and openness (curiosity and a preference for novelty).

General trends found in the study roughly divided the country into regions. The average mood in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states was found to be temperamental and uninhibited, with the highest overall level of neuroticism; the West Coast, Rocky Mountains and Sun Belt were relaxed and creative, with the highest level of openness; and the vast majority of the South and Midwest were friendly and conventional, with the highest levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Researchers posed geographical and historical explanations for the trends, including the idea that pioneers who moved West tended to have open, curious and flexible tendencies that were passed down through generations. By contrast, people with more conventional temperaments preferred to say closer to their ancestors’ earliest settlements, although the tendency of open-minded folks to migrate to cosmopolitan areas explained the relatively high levels of openness on the East Coast.

In terms of individual scores, folks in Wisconsin were found to be the most extroverted, with the least extroverted being Vermont. The most conscientious went to South Carolina and the least to Maine, and the most and least neurotic were West Virginia and Utah, respectively. Utah was also the most agreeable, and politician-laden D.C. the least. However, D.C. scored the highest for openness while North Dakota finished last.

Alabama scored lower than average in neuroticism and openness, but high in conscientiousness, extroversion and agreeableness, painting the picture of relaxed, friendly and dependable folks with strong traditional values.

Massachusetts, which didn’t particularly impress me with its friendliness, scored low in extroversion and agreeableness, almost last in conscientiousness, and they rated third in the country for neuroticism. I think they just need more hugs.

Perhaps they could take a lesson from Wisconsin’s Snuggle House, a Madison-based business that offered professional cuddling at an hourly rate designed to provide warmth and comfort to affection-starved customers. The idea might have thrived in the highly extroverted and agreeable state known for friendliness, but it’s also one of the least open-minded states in the country. Unfortunately Snuggle House closed its doors this month due to pressure from local officials who feared it would lead to prostitution or sexual assault.

The article also included a personality test that guided readers to the state that most closely matches their individual temperament. According to the test, I belong in Oregon, based on my specific combination of high openness and agreeableness, moderate conscientiousness, and very low extroversion and neuroticism.

That sounds about right I guess. I’d love to visit some day, but I would miss all the hugs in the friendly South. Fortunately Portland is home to Snuggle Up to Me, where professional cuddler Samantha Hess charges $60 per snuggle. I suppose that might suffice, but I’m keeping an eye on my wallet.