Have you heard of hot fluff? Don’t worry, I didn’t have one either until Thea, my neighbor, told me about it. “I think you gotta look in the warm blurs,” were his exact words, as we crossed a road and entered a conversational cul-de-sac that I wasn’t quite sure how to get out of.
“The hot fluff?” I repeated – repeating things to people being my usual tactic when I don’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about. “Yeah, hot fluff,” she agreed, as if it were the most normal thing in the world and we weren’t two women walking around in public repeating the words “hot” and “fluff.” .
I took a stab in the dark. “Did they play at Glastonbury? Now it was Thea who looked confused. “No,” Thea said. “The Warm Fuzzies aren’t a band, Bryony, it’s a feeling.”
And then she explained: warm fuzz is a term coined in the late 1960s by psychotherapist Claude Steiner, to describe the positive feelings emitted by people.
Steiner was an early proponent of transactional analysis, which is a form of psychotherapy that examines how people interact. Steiner believed that the more positively children were treated, the more positively they went through life, and vice versa.
To show this, he wrote a children’s book called A Warm Fuzzy Tale, about a magical world where people have bags of warm fluff that they pass out to make others happy. But then comes a witch, who’s upset that people aren’t using her potions because they’re all so happy. She convinces a child that warm stuffed animals are limited and should not be given away. The witch tells the child to save her hot stuffed animals by swapping “cold quills” instead, which do exactly what they say on the box. Soon his warning spreads and everyone starts handing out cold quills, until they are all completely miserable (except for the witch).
The book ends by pointing out that warm fuzzes are in fact infinite and free to give – they exist (without rationing) within each of us. The moral of the story is that the more hot fluff we give out, the more we’ll get back – and, sadly, the same can be said of cold thorns.
Thea had mentioned the hot fuzzies because we had talked about how everything seemed negative lately, from TV news to news on the neighborhood WhatsApp group (someone’s car had been stolen; two people had fought at a noisy party; someone had captured a dodgy-looking man hanging out near their trash cans on their Ring camera; and so on and so forth). Every negative report seemed to spark another negative report – those cold thorns led to even more cold thorns. Thea thinks we’re a society in desperate need of more warm fluff, and I have to admit she’s right.
Modern life isn’t designed for hot fluff – it’s designed for convenience and cold spines. Technology means we interact less with other humans, and when we do have a face-to-face conversation, it’s usually to complain about how technology has failed in some way (think checkouts supermarket self-service). When we talk to people, it’s usually not about how great we think they are – usually it’s about complaining about something they didn’t do.
Social media isn’t helping and working from home has made it worse. A friend with a team of 10 lamented that during shutdowns she only called her employees to tell them they had something wrong. Whereas when they were together in an office, she would be more inclined to thank them for their work, by the way. The warm fuzziness of human contact has been replaced by the cold spiciness of social distancing.
Later that night, I lay on my bed thinking about what Thea had said. I decided I would make a conscious effort to embrace warm fluff. I picked up my phone and typed in a message: “Our walk today left me feeling warm and fuzzy.” I woke up the next morning to a warm fuzzy response, and rode through the day on a warm fuzzy high, reacting with a smile even when my daughter threw a cold, prickly tantrum. He defused the situation immediately.
So, spread the word about hot fluff. With a bit of luck, they might just take off.
This fear of going back to school
Reading your posts, I was struck with pure childhood terror. Returning to school after a seven-week vacation can leave such a scar that some people still feel it decades later. How do we prevent our own children from feeling this terror? A new pencil case and shiny shoes might make me feel better, but how do I soothe my nine-year-old daughter as she prepares to enter fifth grade? Any advice would be gratefully received at the normal email address – and in the meantime I will continue to sharpen my pencils.