A person’s social life consists of the various bonds they form with others, such as family, friends, members of their community, and strangers. It can be measured by the duration and quality of the social interactions they have on a regular basis, both in person and online.
Human beings are social animals, and the tenor of someone's social life is one of the most important influences on their mental and physical health. Without positive, durable relationships, both minds and bodies can fall apart.
Individuals begin life dependent for survival on the quality of their relationship with their primary caregiver, usually their mother. Humanity's survival as a species similarly hinges on the capacity for social living. Most of human history was spent in small groups in which each individual was dependent on others for survival; evidence suggests this is the condition to which humans are best adapted.
Technology has changed the ways people interact with others in their daily lives, but it hasn’t affected the basic need to form supportive bonds with other people.
Human beings are a social species, driven by a desire for community and belonging. Social interactions feed that need. They are also beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint—social interactions help people build communication skills and cooperate to achieve a common goal, as shown by this research on friendly foxes.
Social interaction occurs between groups of two (dyads) or more individuals. They may be more transactional, with one party trying to get the other to behave a certain way, or they may be more cooperative and intended to provide mutual pleasure. Studies suggest that the quantity of social interaction matters: Spending more time around other people can increase an individual’s happiness and satisfaction with life.
People tend to withdraw from social life for a variety of reasons: They may be shy, prone to avoidance, naturally unsocial, rejected by their peers, or they may simply enjoy spending time alone. While many people become loners out of fear and anxiety, not all motivations are harmful. Some people, such as hermits, can get great pleasure out of leading a solitary life.
In life, it’s important to be comfortable enough at interacting with people to get your basic needs met. But how deep do those relationships need to grow? While you might long for closer friendships, they simply aren’t necessary to your survival or even your happiness. What does matter is how comfortable and content you are with being alone.
There is no “right” number of friends that someone should have. What matters is the individual’s perception of the quality of their friendships and how much satisfaction they receive in the process.
Understanding how to establish and maintain supportive connections in any medium is an essential part of life. People who live alone especially benefit from cultivating a strong network of social connections.
People have the freedom today to build their particular social cohort both online and offline; their social circles may include family, friends, professional mentors, and other important individuals in their lives. Online social ties can be a powerful source of social support and joy, especially for people who are isolated for geographical or other reasons. There is, however, no substitute for face-to-face interaction, and those who spend time among friends and family report higher levels of well-being than individuals with fewer ties "in real life."
Making friends may seem like a mysterious process, but it’s actually rooted in some basic social truths. For example, it’s easiest to develop friendships with people who are in close proximity, share similar interests, and support your social identity. Maintaining a friendship requires you to be supportive, disclose personal information, interact regularly, and be more positive than negative on balance.
Many people find it difficult to make new friends as adults. As they age, most of their time and energy get consumed by career and family demands. They tend to socialize out of convenience with co-workers, bosses, the parents of their children’s friends, etc., but these relationships often don’t deepen into anything more lasting.
Unlike some childhood experiences, adult friendships don’t just magically happen due to luck. The secret to making friends as an adult is that you have to put yourself out there; show up at events (even when you don’t want to) and actively engage with other people who might share your interests. Being present and having a positive attitude can go a long way to opening up the possibility for a deeper friendship.