We all tend to envy popular people – those folks who seem to have countless friends, a packed social calendar and huge numbers of social media connections.
Maybe we shouldn’t be so jealous. When it comes to friendship, quality matters more than quantity, and more “friends” doesn’t mean more happiness, according to new research.
Make no mistake, true friendships are incredibly important. One study concluded that the health and happiness benefits of having just one good friend whom you see every day is equivalent to an extra $100,000 in income. Note that the research specified “good friend” and “every day.” Such relationships are rare and take effort to build and maintain. In researching my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, I found that the happiest retirees have a circle of good friends with whom they interact on a regular basis.
Humans tend to strive for either popularity or “affinity,” according to a recent study. Those who seek popularity want to have tons of friends and be widely liked. People who lean towards affinity focus their efforts on building and deepening close relationships. Guess which group is generally happier? Yep. The affinity folks. Those who chased popularity had worse health, more incidents of depression and higher rates of drug use.
So what’s the “right” number of friends? There’s no answer to that, of course. But research indicates that while humans are capable of handling up to 150 relationships, we typically have just five very close connections and an additional 10 people we consider close. These are the family and friends who truly know us, warts and all; the people with whom we can discuss anything. Nearly all the emotional and physical benefits we derive from human relationships come from these 15 people.
The lesson here is to focus our time and effort on meaningful relationships. That can be difficult in adulthood with the demands of job and family devouring our time and attention. I think Facebook poses another challenge to building real friendships. It gives us a false sense of connection to people we’re not truly close to and eats up time that would be better spent calling or meeting up with a real friend for the kind of together time that truly deepens relationships.
So, get off the computer, pick up the phone and make a lunch date with your best bud. The benefits of true friendship are immense, but must be earned. As the saying goes, “A man who would have friends must show himself friendly.”