How Many is Too Many?

Is it better to have a few close friends or a larger number of perhaps less intimate, but still meaningful, friendships in your life?

I’ve always kept a pretty wide circle of friends, but I’ve often wondered about whether that’s the wrong approach. Am I spreading my capacity for friendships too thin? Or, do my close friends feel I don’t appreciate them enough because I have more than one or two people that I confide in and bond with regularly? I would hope not!

Fortunately, the Survey Center on American Life recently studied the question of whether more is better when it comes to friends and found that—although the quality of the relationship is important—more is definitively better when it comes to having friends. In fact, Americans who reported having larger social networks were less apt to say they were feeling lonely or isolated.

Taking their findings a step further, the Survey Center reported that one of the most critical predictors of social isolation is how many friends we have. Depression was found to be less prevalent among people with larger numbers of friends. The study also suggested that friendship could be beneficial to our perception of our overall physical health: more than half of Americans with 10 or more close friends reported being very or completely satisfied with their  health. That compares with less than a third of Americans with either one or zero close friends who reported that they are very or completely satisfied with their physical health.

Although it’s impossible to have deep friendships with everyone, these findings support the notion that having friends—and more than a few of them—is good for your mental and physical well-being. So, go ahead, reach out to that friend you haven’t seen in a while. They will likely be glad to hear from you, and you may find your whole well-being gets a boost!

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