The Importance of Friendships in Your Health and Well-Being
A close inner circle of friends is scientifically proven to make you a happier and healthier human being.
When it comes to our health, most of us know the basics — eat nutrient-rich foods, get 30-minutes of exercise a day, and drink plenty of water. But more and more research is revealing another major factor in your overall wellness journey: the importance of friendships.
It turns out that healthy relationships actually contribute to good health — apparently, things like cholesterol, BMI, or blood pressure aren’t the only measure of how healthy you are. According to the World Health Organization, your mental and social well-being matter just as much and can drastically affect your physical health for better or worse. We’ll let you in on a little secret: maintaining good friendships can have a massive impact on the top-line wellness metrics that indicate overall well-being.
Zoom out: A close inner circle of friends is scientifically proven to make you a happier and healthier human being.
So how do friendships contribute to our well-being? And how do we foster those tight-knit communities in an era defined by loneliness and isolation? We’re going to dig into the importance of friendship, what a healthy number of friends looks like, and how we can successfully nurture those relationships in our distraction-prone, always-on modern lives.
How Good Friends Contribute to Good Health
A close-knit crew of great friends can (literally) make you feel better. The mental health benefits of friendships are probably the most obvious, but there are important physical health benefits as well.
Having a close circle of dependable friends can:
- Decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Reduce your risk of depression and anxiety
- Lower your blood pressure
- Decrease your risk of serious health problems like diabetes, heart attack, and stroke
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI).” They also report that adults who have close social connections live longer than their isolated peers.
“Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI).”
How Many Friends Should You Have?
Since friendships are so good for your health, does that mean the more friends you have, the happier and healthier you’ll be?
Unfortunately, no. Science proves that the quality of our relationships matters more than the number of friends we have. In fact, our brains can only handle maintaining real, genuine friendships with a limited number of people. According to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, that number clocks in around 150.
While studying primate family groups in the 1990s, Dunbar and his colleagues developed a theory on human social capabilities. In a 2013 study published by The Royal Society, Dunbar stated that the more people we know, the more cognitive load is required of us. Since our brain capacity is limited, maintaining relationships with more than 150 individuals is not only unrealistic, it’s bordering on impossible.
According to Facebook, you probably know more than Dunbar’s ideal number of people, but mentally you’ll only really be able to keep in touch with about 150 of them in any meaningful capacity at any given time.
Dunbar later expanded on this theory, including a breakdown of closeness layers. According to his research, Dunbar postures that out of the 150 people you’re able to maintain in your social circle, you can only really keep about three to five super-close relationships at one time.
These three to five that you consider your closest people make up your inner circle. And, according to Dunbar, these are the people who matter most when it comes to improving your health and overall well-being.
Fabriq: Communal by Nature | Social Health
Understanding Your Social Circles
From the fabulous folks in your outer circle to the chosen family in your inner circle, your health and happiness thrive with community.
Who is In Your Inner Circle? The Answer Matters.
For some people, it’s easy to identify the people they’d choose for their inner circle. For others, it can be quite a challenge.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you discover who really belongs in that close circle of relationships:
- Who are the people you feel you can totally be yourself around?
- Who would you trust with a secret? Or whose secret would you keep?
- Who would answer the phone if you called them at 3 a.m.?
- Who would you call first if you got a promotion, got into an accident, or needed advice?
- Who shows up for you, and who do you show up for, when either of you needs physical, financial, or emotional support?
The people in your inner circle are those who love and accept you for who you are. They show up for the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
Remember, family members count, too! For you, your mom might be a vital member of your inner circle, for others this group may consist primarily of the family they chose (read: friends). All are welcome in this relationship space. However you swing it, picking the people who make up your inner circle is very private, so we won’t tell if mom didn’t make the cut.
If you can only identify one or two people for your inner circle, that’s totally fine. When it comes to relationships, quality matters far more than quantity. Kelly Campbell, a California professor who studies interpersonal relationships, told Business Insider that a “person could report having one close friend or family member and be just as happy as someone who reports having five or 10.”
The Epidemic of Isolation and Loneliness
Finding and maintaining those three to five relationships isn’t always easy, though.
People often struggle to build friendships once they’ve left school, reached adulthood, or move to a new city. One study conducted by Cigna found that half of all adults in the United States feel lonely some or all of the time. That’s a lot of lonely people!
It seems the loneliness epidemic isn’t getting any better, either. Caroline Beaton writes in Psychology Today that “loneliness is contagious.” She says that when someone feels lonely, they end up pulling out of activities and leaving the social circles in which they regularly interact. This creates a ripple effect of loneliness that spreads to others in the same circle. Essentially, when others disengage, it prompts us to also disengage.
Fabriq: Communal by Nature | Loneliness
Eliminating the Stigma and Overcoming Loneliness
Feelings of loneliness can strike at any time, whether you’re physically alone by yourself, or among a crowd of people. It can even occur when you’re with your partner or close friends. So what is loneliness exactly, and how can you overcome it?
The knee-jerk reaction is to blame the internet, devices, or video games for the intensifying loneliness epidemic. The truth is, all of these tools can provide essential, life-saving social connections for those who may not be able to find it elsewhere. The effects are short-lived, though, when they aren’t backed up with real-life interaction. So, while connecting with people digitally can be helpful for those experiencing loneliness, it’s important to spend time offline nurturing real-world relationships as well.
Focus on Your Inner Circle to Improve Your Social Wellness
The influence of friendships on your health and well-being is becoming very clear. So, if your goal is to live a longer, healthier life, focus on our inner circle — those three to five closest relationships — to improve your social wellness. Strengthening your social fabric will help you experience all the good things that come with those close relationships, including mental, emotional, and physical benefits.
Identify who makes up your inner circle and start by reaching out to make plans that help you connect with them in deep and meaningful ways. This may be as simple as an invitation to grab a cup of joe or going for a walk together. Any kind of quality time that nurtures open and honest communication can strengthen your bond, deepen your friendships, and help enhance your own health and well-being.
You’re Communal by Nature
These days, most folks find it easier to lock eyes with a screen than with another person, but on a social level, we’re biologically built to avoid loneliness in order to live happier, healthier, and longer lives. In the era of the great “disconnection epidemic,” when we’re more likely to kick back than venture out, it’s tougher than ever to maintain a tight-knit crew.
That’s where Fabriq slips in and works its magic for the relationships that matter most to you.
It’s important to strike a balance between using technology as a helpful social tool and abusing it as a quick social fix to avoid real-life interactions. Digital wellness is a term used to describe how well you strike that balance.
Being honest with yourself about who you’re most invested in is the first step to organizing your friends into circles of closeness.
Set your sights on strong relationships and deeper connections to keep your social health booming. Need help? These conversation-starting questions really do the trick.